The rise and fall of the "Anti-Woke" industrial complex

At The New Yorker, Emma Green explores the dramatic rise and fall of The Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism, a non-profit aimed at undermining "woke" ideology. In "Is It Possible to Be Both Moderate and Anti-Woke?" (archive), radical centrists take the stage but soon exit on the right.

[Bari] Weiss, [Peter Boghossian], and the other founders recruited an informal board of advisers—a mix of podcasters, journalists, academics, and lawyers. Among them were the media personality Megyn Kelly, the writer Andrew Sullivan, and the anti-critical-race-theory activist Christopher Rufo. In some circles, these people are celebrities: Angel Eduardo, who later joined the staff as the director of messaging and editorial, described one adviser, Daryl Davis, a Black musician known for persuading white nationalists to leave the Ku Klux Klan, as "my Obi-Wan."

I've sat through some mind-numbing corporate DEI training sessions. I've also met some (mostly white) people who do treat their commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion in some weirdly cultish ways that end up feeling even more racist and tokenizing. And sure, I've witnessed situations where I thought an accusation of racism was perhaps unwarranted, if not overblown. But FAIR's idealized version of itself (taken at face value) would preemptively end all such unfortunate scenarios by actively preventing anyone from talking about race in certain ways that FAIR deemed unacceptable. The organization presented itself as an alternative institution that appealed to the moderate American who has been terrorized by social media to think that they, too, might some day get cancelled over a poorly placed micro-aggression (insert eyeroll here). Even in the most charitable interpretation, FAIR existed not to fight for anything, but rather to fundraise millions of dollars to prevent certain groups of left-ish people from "going too far," in their estimation.

Which is why it was bankrolled, in part, by Harlan Crow, a donor relationship cultivated by Bari Weiss.

Naturally, it's entertaining to watch the internal implosion of a group of wealthy, influential personalities who are determined to protect free speech (for wealthy powerful people) by limiting the allowable terms of discourse used by the "radical left" (as they define it). There's a particularly rich irony in the fact that the organization was essentially founded to control the terms of racial discourse in America—and ultimately imploded over arguments about how viciously they should be attacking trans people, too.

The organization named chapter leaders all over America, and made them responsible for starting local groups. The model was challenging: fair was trying to achieve professional-level work with volunteers, often inexperienced ones. Some volunteers found it difficult to make much progress. Rob Schläpfer, a volunteer state coördinator in Oregon, told me that he worked on a plan to mobilize parents to attend school-board meetings, but it "didn't go anywhere. I was just spinning my wheels." He found it hard to get direction from the national office about what to focus on, or how his chapter's work should fit into fair's mission. As time went on, other volunteer chapter leaders around the country started calling and texting Schläpfer to vent their frustrations. "fair was basically virtue-signalling for the anti-woke," he said. "It was not an organization designed to actually do anything."

What's also interesting, however, is what goes un-said in the article. Writer Emma Green acknowledges, for example, that she has an existing albeit casual relationship with Weiss:

But it was Weiss, more than anyone else, who was clearly the group's big draw. She brought in a half-million-dollar donation from Harlan Crow, a Texas real-estate developer who, ProPublica recently reported, paid for years of undisclosed vacations and private-jet travel for the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Suzy Edelman, another donor, who gave fair a million dollars in 2021, wrote in an e-mail to Weiss, "It's your courage that inspired me to join the movement—not just to reform what's been captured, but to build new, wonderful things." I know Weiss a little bit—we've hung out in professional settings a few times over the years. … "I think we are in a moment of profound change in American life, in which many old institutions are crumbling or have lost trust," she told me recently.

The casual friendship between Green and Weiss is not particularly surprising, given Green's previous writing history. She recently wrote a piece about a private elite social club of "Cancelled People" bankrolled by anonymous wealthy donors, which focused more on the tragic lamenting of the "Cancelled People" who are conveniently still employed and housed and bankrolled by anonymous donors, than she was about the story's other implications (such as those anonymous wealthy donors bankrolling everything!). She also authored the infamous "The Liberals Who Can't Quit Lockdown" published by The Atlantic in the spring of 2021, which took condescending aim at the people of Brookline, Massachusetts for not immediately getting on with their lives as soon as a few of them received their first COVID vaccinations. After the publication of that article, the world quickly realized that COVID was mutating, and that a single vaccine was not going to make the whole pandemic disappear overnight like a bad dream. Green has continued to cover the mocking-people-who-are-still-concerned-about-COVID beat while wearing her own mask of faux objectivity.

That faux mask of objectivity is on full display in this FAIR-For-All piece for The New Yorker, too. Green is careful not to express any of her personal opinions or pre-conceived biases towards the subjects or people about which she writes. Indeed, she writes with the precision of a surgeon as she craftily removes her own perspective from the story — while also ignoring the fact that such surgery leaves clear, visible scars and gaps, revealing where those things once were. In a lot of ways, the article reads like a carefully conceived smear piece designed to slander FAIR's disgraced former figurehead, Bion Bartning, and protect Weiss's reputation. Even things like the revelation of Weiss's deep pocket relationship with Harlan Crow are presented unquestioningly, almost with pride. While Green expertly recreates the drama between the members of FAIR over their failures to define things like "anti-woke," even amongst each other in private, there's an air of manufactured consent about the whole thing — a whiff of unspoken implication that what they were fighting for was good and even righteous, even if they were ultimately torn apart by juicy in-fighting. There's not even any reflection on how, hey, maybe this goes to show that everyone's susceptible to tribalism, and that maybe these "anti-woke" crusaders aren't so different in that regard from the extreme examples of "wokeness" which they've committed their lives to destroy.

Case-in-point: Green presents several quotes from Colin Wright, whom she describes as "a former FAIR senior editor who frequently writes on gender issue." This is technically accurate — Wright does indeed write frequently on gender issues. He's a white man with a PhD in the evolutionary biology of bugs who has decided to commit his life to becoming one of the most prominent anti-trans crusaders on the Internet. He has gleefully, trollishly launched legions of his followers on social media harassment campaigns against several personal friends of mine — all women of color, naturally — who dared to interview experts on things like human biology and human sexuality who purported such radical beliefs as "trans people exist" and "human sexuality is way more complicated than your middle school sex ed class explained it." And here, his reputation is laundered. What greater legitimacy is there than a New Yorker interviewer in which you present yourself as the calm, sober-minded rationalist?

Ultimately, the New Yorker piece is a fascinating read both because of and in spite of these glaring editorial omissions.

Is It Possible to Be Both Moderate and Anti-Woke? — Archived [Emma Green / The New Yorker]