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The Claremont Institute Strikes Again

President Donald Trump awards the Claremont Institute, accepted by their president Ryan Williams, the National Humanities medal in the East room of the White House on November 21, 2019.

Not far from the Claremont Colleges sits an ideological mecca of Trump’s populist brand of conservatism. A think tank that grabbed headlines over the last eight years through numerous mishaps, including an infamous comparison of Trump’s 2016 campaign to Flight 93 passengers fighting back against Al-Qaeda on 9/11. They awarded Jack Posobiec, who initiated the Pizzagate conspiracy, a fellowship in 2019. They stood by when Senior Fellow John Eastman spearheaded Trump’s fraudulent election challenge on Jan 6th. The “West Coast Straussians'' at the Claremont Institute once commanded respect among conservative intellectuals. Now they are synonymous with conspiracy and the far right of the Republican party’s schism.

Harry V. Jaffa, a former CMC professor known for his application of Straussian philosophy to American political thought and Lincoln, taught the four students who founded the Institute. Their mission was to establish a holdout against historicism, statism, and relativism. The founders of the Claremont Institute’s rejection of Hegelian thought and postmodern philosophy laid the foundation for their mission “to restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life.” 

One might believe that those who place such value in the Nation’s founding principles — and in the republican institutions the Framers built —- would reject political figures who advocate for their erosion. But the Claremont Institute continues to surprise us, even after the entire John Eastman January 6th debacle.

In January, the New York Times published ‘America Is Under Attack’: Inside the Anti-D.E.I. Crusade, recounting a systematic right-wing effort to dismantle diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs at universities and schools. At the heart of this thrust against DEI is the Claremont Institute. The Times gathered evidence of the Claremont Institute’s involvement in a campaign to pass legislation and spur movements that cleanse education of what they categorize as ‘woke indoctrination.’ 

Successful bans on DEI offices, programs, and training in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Florida are early crusades in what is shaping up to be a prolonged battle over school curriculums. Despite publicly advocating for academic freedom, the Institute’s movement covertly seeks to rid university systems of left-wing professors. 

While organizing the defense of Amy Wax, a University of Pennsylvania Professor accused of racism, the Claremont Institute worked with their established allies at Hillsdale College — another bastion of Trump’s conservatism. They grounded their arguments in stirring liberal fears that firing the professor would “only embolden red-state lawmakers to fire controversial left-wing professors.” Inquiring about the strategy, Dr. Azerrad, a Hillsdale professor, asked over email: “But don’t we want this to happen?” 

“Yes,” replied Claremont Fellow Dr. Yenor, “But your audience doesn’t want it to happen.”

The emails shared by the Times reveal, among other things, a prejudiced coalition of people leading advocacy that is dubious as it is deceitful. Following the release of the article, and others by Vox and The New Republic, the Claremont Institute issued a response: Why America’s “Anti-Discrimination” Regime Needs to Be Dismantled. In the article, they laid out their opposition to DEI programs and America’s “reigning civil rights ideology,” which they regard as a “grave threat to free speech and free elections,” that has the potential to bring about the “end of liberty and republican self-government” and is “a mortal threat to the American Way of Life.” 

The Institute points to DEI as a means for bureaucracies and businesses to undermine traditional American values, gain more power, and violate principles of equal protection under the law. Notably missing from the response is any acknowledgment of their eager challenges to the censorship of conservatives while they covertly campaign to censor liberals. Claremont’s actions expose plainly hypocritical views on academic freedom and the First Amendment. 

Recently, The Guardian reported that emails and donation records connect Ryan P. Williams, the Claremont Institute’s president, and Fellow Scott Yenor, to an all-male fraternal organization called the Society for American Renewal (SACR). The organization’s internal mission statement outlines a desire to uproot the multiracial, multicultural American republic and install a renewed patriarchal regime grounded in Christian nationalism. Membership entails pursuing numerous objectives that will bring about a new “aligned regime,” such as “collect, curate, and document a list of potential appointees and hires for a renewed American regime.” Members must also “understand the nature of authority and its legitimate forceful exercise.” 

In their own words:

President Ryan Williams also responded to questions about what a new regime may look like: “it would, more likely than not, be some form of the US constitutional order, but with much higher fidelity to that order before it was corrupted and subverted by modern progressivism.” This connection between Claremont and SARC unveils a concerted effort to undermine the very identity of America as a pluralistic democracy, which underscores the Institute's radical philosophical pivot. 


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