Free Congress Research and Education Foundation:
An Extremist Organization in Think Tank Clothing?
Sharron M. Hope
Ph.D. Candidate, Purdue University
827 South 4th Street #24
Lafayette, Indiana 47905
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Free Congress Research and Education Foundation:
An Extremist Organization in Think Tank Clothing?
When one thinks of "extremist rhetoric," one may think first of the words
of fanatical organizations like the White Aryan Resistance (WAR) or the
World Church of the Creator (WCOTC), whose views of white superiority are
clearly expressed in their literature and on their websites. One is less
likely to think of the language of organizations such as the Free Congress
Research and Education Foundation (FCF or Free Congress Foundation), a
conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C.
How does an organization concerned with promoting the conservative view on
particular policy questions measure up as an extremist organization? How do
the ideas of the FCF compare to those of groups openly advocating "white
power"? Is the FCF simply promoting the conservative policy view, or is it
more of a reactionary wolf dressed in conservative think tank clothing? As
critical thinkers and participating citizens in a democracy, it is our
responsibility to place every political organization's rhetoric under
careful scrutiny. Being aware of the depth and breadth of a group's
perspective allows us to make informed choices on whether to adopt and/or
promote that point of view. This scrutiny surely should include policy
think tanks, who are welcome participants in the political process and
whose views may, on the surface, seem reasonable and acceptable.
This study provides a short background of the Free Congress Foundation,
identifies five characteristics of extremist rhetoric, and examines the
ideas nested in the FCF website for those characteristics. This study
examines the implicit messages as well as the explicit messages of the FCF
to answer the research question, "Does the rhetoric of the Free Congress
Research and Education Foundation website demonstrate that the organization
should be characterized as an extremist group?"
Free Congress Foundation
The Free Congress Research and Education Foundation was founded in 1977 by
Paul Weyrich. He served as president until 2002 and is now the Chairman and
CEO of the organization. In an editorial published in The Washington Post
in 1999, Weyrich explained the conservative strategy: "(T)o elect
conservatives to office and then to rely on their help to retake society's
institutions: not only the government but also the public schools, the
universities, the media, the entertainment industry and so on" (2003,
Separate & Free, ¶ 3). This strategy met with some political victories, for
example the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Republican control of the
House of Representatives in 1994. "But in terms of the culture war, this
strategy failed. The culture has continued to deteriorate" (2003, Separate
& Free, ¶ 5) because "culture is stronger than politics" (2003, Declaration
of Cultural Independence, ¶ 12). According to the FCF, America has fallen
into moral decay as the counterculture of the 1960s with its "cultural
Marxism know as 'multiculturalism' or Political Correctness" became the
dominant culture (2003, Declaration of Cultural Independence, ¶ 1). The
Moral Majority, a term that Weyrich coined, has become the Moral Minority.
While not abandoning its political commentary, the FCF now has a higher
priority, the Culture War.
The FCF website illustrates the dual interests of policy and the culture
war. Sections for Technology Policy, Cultural Conservatism, and Law and
Democracy highlight the organization's priorities. Political commentary is
available on a variety o issues either in print or audio formats. Their
definition of cultural conservatism is useful in understanding further
rhetoric of the organization:
Cultural conservatism is the belief that there is a necessary, unbreakable,
and causal relationship between traditional Western, Judeo-Christian value,
definitions of right and wrong, ways of thinking and ways of living – the
parameters of Western culture – and the secular success of Western
societies: their prosperity, their liberties, and the opportunities they
offer their citizens to lead fulfilling rewarding lives. If the former are
abandoned, the latter will be lost (2003, Centers/index).
Since the foray into the political arena was unsuccessful, the FCF website
presents a new strategy designed to get us out of the "sewer" that is
present-day culture: "We seek nothing less than the creation of a complete
alternate structure of parallel cultural institutions" (¶ 14).
Characteristics of Extremist Rhetoric
Practical limitations make it impossible to consider all the applications
of extremist rhetoric on the FCF website. Therefore I will focus on the
elements of isolation/polarization, moral conflict, visions of utopia, and
finally the implicit messages contained in the website rhetoric. First, let
us consider the use of the term "reactionary revolutionary" and whether it
is an appropriate label for the Free Congress Foundation.
The thrust of the FCF message is a return to traditional, Judeo-Christian,
Western values. According to Dale Leathers in 1968, one of the basic
assumptions of the Radical Right is that the "values of religious
fundamentalism dictate the political thrust of reactionary rhetoric" (p.
246, italics in original omitted). This was indeed the initial strategy of
the Free Congress Foundation as its religious values guided its political
approach. With the Communists no longer the threat that was perceived in
1968, the focus is now on the "cultural Marxists" with their threats of
political correctness and multiculturalism.
In summarizing the left-right continuum of Clinton Rossiter's typology of
seven political types (revolutionary radicals, radicals, liberals,
conservatives, standpatters, reactionaries and revolutionary
reactionaries), Leathers notes that both revolutionary radicals and
revolutionary reactionaries "agree that present institutions, traditions,
and values are oppressive and untrustworthy" (1994, p. 126). Both want to
destroy, rather than replace, the present political institutions. However,
while the radicals have a commitment to the future, the reactionaries have
a similar commitment to the past.
In considering the position of the Free Congress Foundation, its members
are definitely inspired by the strength of an historical America. According
to the FCF, the U.S. past was pure Leave It to Beaver: two-parent families
where Dad worked at a well-paid job, Mom kept house, their children
attended excellent schools and played in safe neighborhoods. Entertainment
was "moral, instructive and healthy." The FCF contrasts this perfect past
with today's broken and blended families, unsupervised children, and poor
quality schools where students learn only the lessons of political
correctness. The entertainment industry is referred to as a "bottomless
sewer." This dependence and commitment to the past qualifies FCF rhetoric
Other qualities of the FCF rhetoric match the "attack and destroy"
language seen in revolutionary rhetoric. In the words of the FCF, "Our
strategy is to bleed this corrupt culture dry" (2003, Integration of Theory
and Practice ¶ 19) by attracting to their movement those who would
otherwise become leaders in the mainstream culture. By people joining or
patronizing the alternative institutions that the FCF members will build,
the dominant institutions will be abandoned and thus, claims the FCF, the
"reigning leftist regime will collapse from lack of support. Our movement
will be entirely destructive and entirely constructive. We will not try to
reform the existing institutions. We only intend to weaken and eventually
destroy them" (2003, Integration ¶ 20). The rhetoric continues with a
volley of war metaphors. The phrases "launch our movement", "knock the
opponents off-balance", "maintain a constant barrage of criticism at the
Left", "attack their legitimacy", "not give them a moment's rest", and "use
guerilla tactics" all appear in a section of the website devoted to the
"Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist
Movement" (2003, ¶ 17-20).
The lack of interest in reform and the focus on destroying the existing
institutions is distinctly revolutionary. However, the Free Congress
Foundation is not all about destruction, since the FCF proposes building an
alternative society that will remain physically, economically and
politically part of the United States, but culturally separate (that is,
based on traditional, Judeo-Christian, Western values – unlike the dominant
culture). However, since the purpose of these alternative institutions is
to undermine and ultimately destroy the existing institutional structures,
the rhetoric remains classified as revolutionary.
The alternative institutions created by the FCF will allow members to
culturally separate from the dominant decadence of pop culture. The
objective is to create institutions "where people who want to live
according to the old rules of our civilization can find comfort" (2003,
Independents' Forum, ¶ 5) This isolationist position is another trait of
It is true that birds of a feather flock together. In 1951 Asch
demonstrated that people naturally tend to congregate with those who share
their attitudes and values, and to separate themselves from others whose
values counter their own (Whillock, 1995, p. 33). Whillock further points
out that these factors result in polarization, which occurs "whenever
people become accustomed to the comfort of similar others, isolate
themselves from those who are different, and begin constructing barriers to
maintain a 'proper' social distance from the designated out-group" (1995,
This could just as easily be a quote from the Free Congress Foundation
website as the book entitled Hate Speech. Cultural isolation is the new
goal of the Free Congress Foundation. Using home schooling as their model,
the FCF strategy is to provide Judeo-Christian alternatives in government
services, news and other media, art and music, libraries and health care,
to name but a few opportunities. FCF Chairman and CEO Paul Weyerich
justifies this strategy by noting that the word "holy" means "set apart."
He points out that examples of separation to preserve beliefs and culture
appear throughout the Old Testament and Christian history, so this idea is
not without precedent. The FCF vision includes the possible development of
neighborhoods, towns, and even small cities "where people who adhere to
traditional morals and culture might live among others like themselves"
(2003, Independents' Forum, ¶ 5). Part of their long range plan is to
identify states that might welcome such communities.
The plan is not without risks. According to Whillock (1995), groups who
adopt self-imposed isolation begin to create self-justifying reasons for
their behavior in order to maintain the social order. The narratives would
serve to simply further alienate the FCF group members from the dominant
culture they are trying to avoid, but not withdraw from. "The significance
of this self-polarizing behavior is that it creates conditions ripe for
hate appeals" (Whillock, 1995, p. 34). When the culturally isolated FCF
members compete with nonmembers in the physical, economic and political
spheres, the self-justifications would only contribute to the inevitable
Another characteristic of extremist rhetoric is that opponents are engaged
in moral conflicts that emerge from "very deep differences in opponents'
assumptions about fundamental reality" (Freeman, Littlejohn & Pierce, 1992,
p. 313). Moral conflicts generally do not rise from differences in policy,
but in the confrontation between mutually exclusive belief systems. These
fundamental differences make resolution difficult; sometimes the two belief
systems are incommensurable and common ground is unattainable. Freeman, et
al. (1992) observed three characteristics of moral conflicts: they are
persistent, patterned, and their discourse is attenuated. The conflict of
the Free Congress Foundation with the "MTV culture," "leftist regime"
certainly meets all three criteria.
First, the Free Congress Foundation was formed over 25 years ago, thus its
conflict with the Communists and now with the "cultural Marxists" has been
persistent. (The conservative disagreement with the Communists is even more
persistent, reaching back into the 1950s.) There is little doubt from the
rhetoric on the FCF website that the conflict will not be over soon. In
discussing the new cultural approach, the FCF mentions that the seeds sown
now will have "dramatic repercussions in the long term," well into the 21st
Secondly, the patterns of interaction follow those observed by Freeman and
her fellow researchers: depictions of the conflict have been reduced to
simplified descriptions of events, narrow definitions, and linear-causal
explanations. The societal upheaval of the 1960s is simply the
"counterculture revolution," political correctness is defined as "cultural
Marxism." Multiculturalism itself is tossed out as the worst sort of
epithet and blamed directly for the disgraceful state of American culture
today, but is never specifically defined.
The third characteristic of moral conflict is that the discourse tends to
be provided in short cuts rather than in full-bodied description.
Frustration with understanding the other point of view reduces the desire
to fully explain one's own perspective, and thus the shared rhetoric
becomes shallow, narrow, and generally insufficient to clarify one's
position. This is clearly evident on the Free Congress Foundation website.
The often-used phrase "traditional, Judeo-Christian, Western culture" is
never explained. "Multiculturalism" is never defined. "Political
correctness" is only discussed as a means to curtail freedom of expression.
The author of the section on "Integration of Theory and Practice" notes
that his essay contains no theory or evidence, or even a definition of a
traditionalist (a.k.a. "culturally conservative") society. He claims that
others have performed that task better than he could, and that his
intention is not to convert anyone. This runs contrary to Freeman, et al.'s
point that discourse to believers contains description that is richer and
more embellished than description given to nonbelievers. Nonbelievers would
neither appreciate the effort nor understand the nuances. Rather than
converting nonbelievers to the cause, the author offers practical steps
intended to rally supporters to action and move the New Traditionalist
Movement forward and closer to its utopian dream.
In discussing the use of utopian discourse by reactionaries and radicals,
McGee (2000) notes that such rhetoric is no longer limited to artifacts
that meet conventional expectations, such as 19th and early 20th century
novels, nor do they need to be entirely devoted to describing how utopia
was achieved in some past, transitional era. Constructing this utopian
vision, "whether anticipated or already achieved, is evidence of rhetorical
radicalism or reactionism… (R)hetoric is reactionary if it envisions a
future order whose ideology and material conditions are recognized…as part
of the myth of the past for that community" (McGee, 2000, p. 313, italics
in original). The description of the FCF future vision therefore qualifies
as both utopian and reactionary discourse, since their ideal future clearly
builds on perceptions of the past. Here is the FCF description of utopia:
Once, not so very long ago, America was a good place to live. Families were
strong and stable. One breadwinner, almost always the father, brought home
enough income to give a whole family a middle class standard of living.
Wives and mothers could devote themselves to making good homes and rearing
their children. Those children played in safe neighborhoods, surrounded by
good neighbors. They went to schools that inculcated discipline, built
character and taught reading, writing and arithmetic well. Entertainment
was moral, instructive and healthy. Civilization was passed successfully
from one generation to another, and even improved a bit along the way.
(2003, Declaration of Cultural Independence, ¶ 4)
This vivid scenario sounds much like the set-up for Leave It to Beaver or
a similar situation comedy of that era. Of course, even in the 1950s,
millions of Americans were not living in the suburban landscape depicted on
these television programs. Yet this is the vision of the past that the Free
Congress Foundation would have us believe to be true, and the utopia that
is again attainable and thus worthy of being pursued. This description
provides a touchstone for what the future can become, which is simply a
restoration of the perceived perfection of the past.
As McGee notes, "The good society envisioned in utopian literature is
radically dependent on conceptions of the good held by author and
audience…The audience is given evidence that the utopian vision is
preferable to the status quo" (2000, p. 304, italics in original). As
evidence that the past is preferable to the present (and thus we must
change the future), the FCF contrasts the Good Old Days with the existing
status quo. Today "divorce and illegitimacy have shattered families and
crippled children" and the single-breadwinner middle class family is the
rare exception rather than the rule. The children, left to grow up on their
own, go to public school "attendance centers" where the focus is not on
reading, writing, and 'rithmetic, but instead on "inculcating the
'attitudes' demanded by the reigning ideology of Political Correctness."
The "bottomless sewer" of the entertainment industry "flood(s) the land
with sex, violence and degradation of every sort. Popular music glorifies
killers and reduces women to whores." Serious music has become a
"self-parody," publishers seek out celebrity authors rather than good
writers, and the news media value sensationalism over facts (2003,
Declaration of Cultural Independence, ¶ 5-8). This dystopian description
will certainly resonate with many people; after all, one doesn't need to be
a conservative to believe that there are significant problems in American
society. But is a return to a previous age the best solution? The desire
for a romanticized past will not address the issues of today; indeed, the
past set the stage for future action. The civil rights, counterculture,
anti-protest and women's liberation movements did not emerge from a vacuum.
They were human responses to real social problems. Still, McGee warns
against taking the reactionary utopia lightly. People, especially
Americans, seem to be moved by appeals to tradition and the past. That is
certainly what the Free Congress Foundation is depending on – false
memories of a better time.
In speaking about the American past, however, the FCF chooses a very narrow
image – one that relegates women to the home and one that excludes people
of color. The issue of race is apparently a taboo subject for the Free
Congress Foundation. While the White Aryan Resistance and the World Church
of the Creator blatantly advocate white power, the issue of color is
obvious via its absence on the FCF site. Even though professing
Judeo-Christian values, thus removing the organization from possible
anti-Semitic claims, any instruction similar to "Be kind one to another" is
One detects a distinctly white flavor in digesting the FCF rhetoric.
Consider the FCF version of utopia, a return to the time prior to the 1960s
counterculture movement – and also the civil rights movement and the
women's liberation movement. If the FCF is concerned about how television
"'normalizes' every deviance, including homosexuality and the inversion of
the traditional roles of men and women," (2003, Declaration of Cultural
Independence, ¶ 7) it is but a short leap to the conclusion that the FCF
would also be concerned about the expanded role of minorities in society.
If the 1950s America is the FCF ideal, then Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and
other ethnicities should recede into the "seen but not heard" position of
The Free Congress Foundation website continually rails about the "long
slide of the country into political correctness" that will result in
America becoming "no less than a third world country" (2003, About Free
Congress, ¶ 2). The concern about becoming a third world country may be as
much about the ethnic make-up of the U.S. population as it is about the
country's economic status. One reason members join the FCF, according to
Weyrich, is concern for "the cultural effects of uncontrolled immigration
and the loss of our European heritage" (2003, Independents Forum, ¶ 7).
In all of its rhetoric, the possible benefits generated from a diverse
population are never considered. Multiculturalism and political correctness
are aligned with the cultural application of Marxist economic theories. The
total dismissal of political correctness translates into simple lack of
respect and insensitivity for others, another quality that runs counter to
Judeo-Christian teachings. This apparent paradox does not bother members of
the FCF, but as rhetoricians, we can appreciate the power that "mere words"
have on those who hear them. Words have consequences – something that the
contributors to the FCF website certainly know.
This study was begun to answer the question, "Does the rhetoric of the Free
Congress Research and Education Foundation website demonstrate that the
organization should be characterized as an extremist group?" Examination of
the text of the FCF website identified the FCF as a revolutionary
reactionary organization. Extremist rhetoric characteristics of
isolation/polarization, moral conflict, and visions of utopia were also
identified within the text of the website. Implicit messages on race were
detected. The presence of these characteristics, as well as the proposed
creation of "separate but (un)equal" institutions, foster attitudes of
white superiority that are also present on the WAR and WTCOC websites.
While a surface examination of the policy sections of the FCF website
yields no indications of extreme rhetoric, the section entitled Cultural
Conservatism offers a different view. The expressed causal relationship of
secular success with traditional Western values indicates unclear thinking.
The call for the cultural separation of FCF members, while remaining a part
of the same physical, economic and political spheres as the dominant
culture, suggests that the FCF is turning its back on those in the
jointly-shared spheres who may need help. This is another act that would
not be condoned by many who follow Judeo-Christian values.
The study has only touched the surface of the rhetorical issues at work on
the Free Congress Foundation website. The apparent paradoxes, a closer
examination of the extremist characteristics mentioned above, the means by
which the Free Congress Foundation legitimizes its beliefs, a thorough
analysis of the plan offered to jumpstart the New Traditionalist Movement
(interestingly, a document now absent from the website) all deserve future
What this study has shown is that extremist rhetoric can be found in places
other than in the fanatical corners of the Internet in which one may expect
to find them. Well-funded, well-organized, well-connected groups such as
the Free Congress Foundation are certainly capable of extreme positions.
Judging from the documents on their website, the leadership of the FCF
understand well the ways to disseminate their message and the means by
which to garner support for their extreme positions. The lesson here is
that each of us must be diligent in ferreting out every aspect of an
organization's position, so that we fully understand what we are supporting.
Freeman, S.A., Littlejohn, S.W., & Pierce, W.B. (1992) Communication
and moral conflict. Western Journal of Communication, 56, 311-329.
Free Congress Research and Education Foundation 2003. (n.d.) Retrieved
February 17, 2003, from http://www.freecongress.org
Leathers, D.G. (1994) Belief-disbelief systems: The communicative
vacuum of the radical right. In G. Mohrmann, C. Stewart, & D. Ochs (Eds.)
Exploration in rhetorical criticism (pp. 125-137).
McGee, B.R. (2000) Thomas Dixon's The Clansman: Radicals,
reactionaries, and the anticipated utopia. Southern Communication Journal,
65, 4, 300-317.
Whillock, R.K. (1995) The use of hate as a stratagem for achieving
political and social goals. In R.K. Whillock and D. Slayden (Eds.), Hate
speech (pp. 28-54). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing.