Josh Hammer: Recent Lowlights in the Woke Capture of Our Once-Venerable Institutions

Lamenting the astonishing success of the activist Left’s century-long Gramscian march through America’s major institutions is, at this juncture, old hat. Still, there have been a few recent powerful examples, coming in quick succession, illustrating the extent to which leading liberal institutions of civil society have been captured by far-left activist wokesters who take opportunistic advantage of their groups’ venerable reputations in an attempt to repurpose them for dubious ends.

Take, for example, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, once one of the nation’s leading lights of the civil rights movement, which in recent decades has increasingly degenerated into a cesspool of grievance politics, intersectionality, race-tinged hucksterism, and crass Democratic Party politicking. This week, the Florida chapter of the NAACP asked its national board to issue a travel advisory against visiting the Sunshine State due to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R-FL) recent moves to, among other things, extirpate “diversity, equity and inclusion” racialist indoctrination from public universities and convince the College Board to drop asinine leftist indulgences such as “queer studies” from its model AP African American Studies curriculum. As DeSantis aptly summed it up at a press conference, when asked about the NAACP tiff: “What a joke!”

Consider also the American Civil Liberties Union’s steady descent, in recent years, away from the free speech absolutism that was long a hallmark of the organization and which led it, back in 1978, to legally argue on behalf of neo-Nazi provocateurs who wanted to march in the heavily Jewish suburb of Skokie, Illinois. Not so much nowadays, as a 2021 New York Times headline put it: “Once a Bastion of Free Speech, the ACLU Faces an Identity Crisis: An organization that has defended the First Amendment rights of Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan is split by an internal debate over whether supporting progressive causes is more important.”

The ACLU’s “internal debate” over whether to err on the side of free speech or progressivism was on full display recently at Stanford Law School. The school’s associate dean for DEI, Tirien Steinbach, who served as a high-ranking local ACLU official prior to her diversitycrat sinecure, was caught on video asking the ludicrous (and now viral and frequently “meme”-d) question of whether the “juice” of the heavily protested Judge Kyle Duncan’s right to speak freely was “worth the squeeze” of the “harm” his mere presence allegedly caused congregated students’ snowflake sensibilities. I also have some personal experience in the modern ACLU’s resistance to open debate: A few years back, I tried to organize a written debate on the hot-button topic of biological male (“transgender women”) athletes competing in women’s sports, and was rebuffed by the ACLU — an organization that has a whole section on its website dedicated to “transgender rights.”

Consider also the Southern Poverty Law Center, another once-iconic civil rights movement organization that has also descended in recent years into far-left activism. Earlier this month, a SPLC attorney named Thomas Jurgens was arrested and charged with domestic terrorism for his role in the outrageous mob attacks on Atlanta’s “Cop City” training facility. Arguably even worse for the SPLC, last month the FBI publicly rescinded a memo on the alleged dangers of so-called “radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology” (whatever that means). That memo had heavily cited the SPLC’s extraordinarily biased use of “hate maps” and targeting of “hate groups,” and its formal rescission from the FBI was a (much-deserved) blow to the SPLC’s credibility. Finally, a current radical Biden nominee to a judgeship on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, Nancy Abudu, is the sitting director of strategic litigation for the SPLC; she has made many outlandish statements while there, including saying the modern American criminal justice system is “practically the same … as during slavery.”

Following the 2019 firing of an organizational co-founder over alleged racial animus and sexual harassment, one former staffer asserted that the SPLC’s serial, tendentious claims of “hate” amount to a “cynical fundraising scam.” And I would know: The SPLC personally came after me in a series of hit pieces this past fall, including one turgid treatise clocking in at almost 5,000 words. I view that as a badge of honor.

Finally, consider also the recent politicization of leading scientific organizations, which was already evident during COVID-19 but which has intensified of late. Earlier this week, Nature magazine concluded that its 2020 presidential endorsement of Joe Biden led many to lose trust in both science as a discipline and Nature as a journal — and then doubled down and vowed to continue to make political endorsements, anyway. As the journal tweeted: “Political endorsements might not always win hearts and minds, but when candidates threaten a retreat from reason” — whatever that means — “science must speak out.”

Apparently, Nature’s announcement was so persuasive that Holden Thorp, editor-in-chief of rival Science magazine, lauded Nature’s “excellent” decision to double down on political endorsements and bemoaned as “unacceptable” — and thus necessarily requiring rebuke from “elites” — the commonplace policy stance that “climate change may be real, but I don’t think we should have government regulation to deal with it.” But who in the world, exactly, elected Holden Thorp to tell us what is an “acceptable” opinion to hold about climate policy? Is the Left for free speech and an open exchange of ideas, or is it not?

O’Sullivan’s Law, named after veteran British conservative and former National Review editor John O’Sullivan, stipulates that “all organizations that are not explicitly right-wing will over time become left-wing.” That assertion has never been more vindicated.

Josh Hammer is opinion editor of Newsweek, a research fellow with the Edmund Burke Foundation, counsel and policy advisor for the Internet Accountability Project, a syndicated columnist through Creators and a contributing editor for Anchoring Truths. A frequent pundit and essayist on political, legal and cultural issues, Josh is a constitutional attorney by training and the co-host of two podcasts: Newsweek's "The Debate" and the Edmund Burke Foundation's "NatCon Squad."

An outspoken conservative, Josh opines on conservative intellectual trends, contemporary domestic and foreign policy debates, constitutional and legal issues, and the intersection of law, politics and culture. He has been published by many leading outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, Newsweek, National Affairs, American Affairs, The National Interest, National Review, City Journal, First Things, Public Discourse, Law & Liberty, Tablet Magazine, Deseret Magazine, The Spectator, The American Conservative, The American Mind, American Greatness, American Compass, Anchoring Truths, Townhall, The Epoch Times, The Daily Wire, Fortune, Fox Business, Pairagraph, The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, The Forward, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the Jewish Journal. He has had formal legal scholarship published by the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy and the University of St. Thomas Law Journal.

Josh is a college campus speaker through Intercollegiate Studies Institute and Young America's Foundation, as well as a law school campus speaker through the Federalist Society. Prior to Newsweek and the Daily Wire, where he was an editor, Josh worked at a large law firm and clerked for a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Josh has also served as a John Marshall Fellow with the Claremont Institute.

Josh graduated from Duke University, where he majored in economics, and from the University of Chicago Law School. He lives in Miami, but remains an active member of the State Bar of Texas.