crying statue of libertyThis is a season of extreme gaslighting where everyone from politicians to internet trolls are tripping over themselves to use psychological means to manipulate us into questioning our own sanity.

This week a person posted an article for general consumption on the Tampa Bay Times Gradebook facebook page entitled, Fix Education by Radical Decentralization by the Tenth Amendment Center. It came with a comment that read: “Interesting read. I would like to hear (I should say, read) your educated opinion on this. Cheers.” and was posted by someone with almost zero content on their FaceBook page. In other words, the poster was very likely a paid-to-post troll. Although the post generated 78 comments and 15 shares it had only 4 likes.  Gratefully, Florida’s smart public education advocates gave a solid push back.

Turns out that The Tenth Amendment Center and it’s founder, Michael Boldin is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an extremist anti-government group. Read their conclusion:

Michael Boldin is the founder and executive director of the Tenth Amendment Center (TAC), an organization that favors “nullification” of federal laws it considers unconstitutional. Founded in 2007, the TAC is based on an expansive reading of the Tenth Amendment, which says that those “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Boldin describes the TAC, which offers model bills and resolutions on its website, as “a non-partisan think tank that supports the principles of strictly limited constitutional government.” Boldin evidently runs the organization from his home, which also houses Webstores, LLC, where he is listed as manager.

As a practical matter, however, the TAC is on the political far right, opposing a whole array of federal laws and regulations. It has gained wide support among hard-line libertarians and neo-Confederates who are still angry at the powers the federal government accumulated after the Civil War that allowed it, among other things, to act against segregation, discrimination and other social ills. (In the 1950s, several states tried unsuccessfully to resist desegregation by nullifying federal laws. The courts have consistently rejected nullification as unconstitutional.) The group’s site, in another indication of its politics, rails against centrist Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a “dedicated Socialist.”

For a time, Boldin crisscrossed the country, taking the TAC’s nullification message to supporters known as “Tenthers.” Its “Nullify Now!” conferences were held between 2010 and 2013 in cities including Austin, Texas, Jacksonville and Orlando, Fla., and Manchester, N.H.

These conferences were often headlined by prominent figures in the anti-government “Patriot” movement, which years grew dramatically after the election of Barack Obama in 2008. The Austin gathering, for instance, featured Art Thompson of the John Birch Society, which once argued that President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a communist agent, and Stewart Rhodes, head of the conspiracy-minded Oath Keepers, a group that encourages police officers and soldiers to disobey “unconstitutional” orders. Kevin Gutzman, a professor of history at Western Connecticut State University and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution, also spoke.

Turns out that the Tenth Amendment Center and other efforts like it are nothing new. As Rachel Tabachnick writes in Nullification, Neo-Confederates and the Revenge of the old Right:

“Advocates base their argument for nullification and its ideological twin, secession, on the “compact theory,” which holds that the U.S. government was formed by a compact among sovereign states that have the right to nullify federal laws—or leave the union.3 Their work has the potential to provoke the most dramatic showdown over states’ rights since President John F. Kennedy federalized Alabama’s National Guard in response to Gov. George Wallace’s refusal to desegregate the University of Alabama.”

Extremism often appears innocuous at the start. Kudos to the readers and public education advocates who pushed back against the content of this post. Never underestimate the importance of questioning what we read and being self-aware about the extreme value of thinking critically.