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A group tied to Ben Carson and Newt Gingrich is ramping up pressure on Republicans to sign a Trump-inspired 1776 pledge

People talk before the start of a rally against “critical race theory” (CRT) being taught in schools at the Loudoun County Government center in Leesburg, Virginia on June 12, 2021.

Andrew Caballero Reynolds AFP via Getty Images

  •  1776 Action is ramping up the fight against “anti-American indoctrination” in schools.
  • More than 300 politicians have already signed their “patriotic education” pledge.
  • Soon they will launch a portal to show which candidates and public officials have signed.

A group with ties to Donald Trump allies, Newt Gingrich and Ben Carson, is ramping up pressure on politicians to support “patriotic education” in schools, a goal the former president set for education before leaving office last year.

More than 300 mostly state and local politicians have already signed the “1776 Action” pledge, which calls for a restoration of “honest, patriotic education that cultivates in our children a profound love for our country.” Republican Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Virginia’s Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin, also a Republican, are among those who have already signed.

As the 2022 campaign season starts — and is certain to be dominated by culture wars over issues like race and gender education — the group is planning to more publicly coax politicians to sign the pledge.

Early this year, 1776 Action will launch an online portal so users can see where candidates and public officials, including school administrators, stand on the pledge and push them to sign it, said Adam Waldeck, the group’s president who worked on former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential campaign and his American Solutions organization.

“The goal is transparency and accountability and to ensure that this is an issue, a major issue — you know, top three — in the minds of voters … when they go to the polls,” Waldeck told Insider. 

1776 Action, a tax-exempt 501(c)4 nonprofit organization, is among several conservative groups now targeting what they consider to be an outsized emphasis on race in education – an issue that has fueled chaotic protests at school board meetings. The group draws its name from the year of the issuance of the Declaration of Independence, which is considered the official founding of the United States of America.

But its emergence as a political tool in recent years has been in an effort by conservatives to counter what they describe as “critical race theory” in education and The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project that “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” The project and lessons on race have sparked a backlash from conservatives and has fueled culture wars over what’s taught in US schools and what books school libraries can keep. 

1776 Action says it’s fighting “anti-American indoctrination” and credits Trump’s efforts to create the “1776 Commission” which produced a report just before President Joe Biden took office in 2021 and disbanded it.

Trump announced in 2020 that he was assembling the commission, which included former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, to teach children about “the miracle of American history” while railing against “left-wing indoctrination” and “lies” about race in American schools. 

Ben Carson and Donald TrumpHUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson speaks before U.S. President Donald Trump signed a proclamation to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. day, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, on January 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. Monday January 16 is a federal holiday to honor Dr. King and his legacy.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

‘Not big for critical race theory’

In December, Trump talked about the importance of the 1776 Action pledge in a video appearance for an Idaho pledge-signing event for dozens of candidates, elected officials, and citizens, who can also sign a pledge. “We’re not big for critical race theory…we’re about making America great again, America first…,” he said, while also promoting energy independence and complimenting Idaho’s potatoes.

1776 Action was active in the campaign for a New Hampshire law that limits lessons on race and sexism in schools, the 2021 gubernatorial election in Virginia, and school board races in Iowa. And it was not without controversy. Students, parents, and community members in Johnston, Iowa marched in protest of the pledge, which three new Johnston School Board members backed by 1776 Action signed as candidates. Leaders of the group “Johnston Parents for Equity and Anti-Racism,” in a statement to Insider, said the pledge has the “exact opposite effect” of its words and it has “politicized our educational system.”

“It promotes dishonest education that discourages accountability and atonement for racist acts in US history,” wrote parents Luana Nelson-Brown, Shalome Musignac-Jordán, and Lya Williams, whose group helped organize the protest. “It promotes that children have unequal value. It pits students against one another on the basis of race and sex.” 

The goals of 1776 Action are to make “patriotic education” a central voting issue, run advocacy campaigns, spotlight “egregious instances of anti-American indoctrination,” build support for the pledge and oppose “Leftist social justice civics,” according to the website. Its board of directors includes Waldeck, Carson’s son Benjamin Carson Jr., and Ryan Rhodes, who worked on Carson’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Waldeck told Insider that people have a problem with “an extremely racialized way of seeing everything under the sun” and the notion that America is irredeemably racist. “We believe that history should be taught in a way that’s honest but also inspiring,” he said.

In the 2022 midterm elections, he said he expects 1776 Action to back some candidates and jump in with advertising and digital texting in selected places around the country. But more importantly, he said, “it’s about moving the needle public opinion-wise, and trying to get the right policies done.” The portal that the group is planning is a way for them to help influence the debate in more races.

Pledge signers would commit to — among other vows — “prohibit any curriculum that pits students against one another on the basis of race or sex,” and “prevent schools from politicizing education by prohibiting any curriculum that requires students to protest and lobby during or after school.”

Some politicians are spreading the word, themselves, about their pledge-signing. Noem boasted about being the first candidate to sign at the Conservative Political Action Conference in July and promoted the pledge in a Fox News opinion piece with former HUD Secretary Carson. 

Republican congressional candidate Tina Ramirez, of Virginia, touted her pledge-signing in a September fundraising email that asked for contributions of $17.76 to help her promote the establishment of September as Patriotic Education Month. She told Insider the email was “far and away” her most successful.

“At the heart of the issue is that parents want a say in the education of their children and want to know their kids are being taught how to think, not what to think,” she wrote in an email.

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