My hero last week was Christopher Rufo, the young independent investigative journalist who revealed racist anti-white employee training going on at Sandia National Labs, and who made it onto Tucker Carlson’s show to talk about it:
It was a big and unexpected win — and Rufo keeps releasing new documents from other whistleblowers, via his must-read Twitter feed, @realchrisrufo. I asked Rufo if he would talk with me about what he’s fighting, and the model of investigative journalism he is practicing. Here is a transcript of our interview, lightly edited for clarity:
What was it like to hear the news that the Trump administration had acted on your reporting, and stopped the Critical Race Theory training at Sandia, and elsewhere in the federal government?
I didn’t see it right away because I was on a train trip from Seattle to Chicago with my oldest son. I was coming up somewhere in Montana, and finally was able to get a cell signal. I saw my inbox flooded with all this news about it. I was just elated. I had publicly stated this goal on August 20 that I was going to persuade the President to abolish critical race theory in the federal government. Most of my friends and colleagues told me that this was a crazy goal, but I had this intuition that it was something that we could actually do.
I have to give credit to the President, Russ Vought, and their team, that they were able to act quickly and take on an issue that no Republican prior to 2016 would have.
It really is true that Republicans like to be thought of as opposing all this social justice warrior stuff, but in the end, they won’t act against it. Why not?
Republicans and conservatives, especially those operating in the political sphere, and within media and politics in our prestige cities, are deathly afraid of being called a racist, a white supremacist, or a bigot. The social pressures on them to stay silent are immense. Because power in the US is centralized – that is, concentrated within institutions in those cities — those prejudices carry lots of weight. People are afraid to engage on these issues.
But I think there’s a deeper reason. I think a lot of conservatives have internalized the metaphysical arguments of the left. There’s this lurking suspicion inside the conservative infrastructure that maybe we’re wrong. Maybe we’re guilty, just like they say we are. In a way, maybe we’ve accepted all these things.
Critical Race Theory, and all these documents that are egregious to almost everyone who sees them – frankly, we’ve let this stuff take over, and we’ve been scared to push back. I think for whatever reason, the president, and maybe a combination of his personal quirks and maybe even some of his personal flaws, are, bizarrely, the perfect battering ram against this stuff. He’s been trashed by the New York media for 50 years. It gives him this unique position where he can fight on these issues whereas a conventional Republican would be too timid.
You have had extraordinary success in exposing this Critical Race Theory cult within institutions. What’s the secret of your success?
I’m following basic Investigative Journalism 101. I cultivate sources, and run a database of hundreds of sources across federal government agencies. I’m constantly receiving and evaluating information from them. For me it’s been a great gift – I’m operating in a space where there’s no competition. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the local papers — they’re all turning a blind eye, because they’re philosophically committed to the [antiracism] narrative. As a conservative journalist, it’s a wide-open field.
As conservatives, we have to realize that the institutions are deeply controlled by the activist class on the left. Conservatives have traditionally acted as the stabilizing force, as the establishment force, within institutions. This is kind of the “old family” view of the world. We have this idea that institutions are fundamentally conservative, manage the political process, and make incremental changes. I think people still kind of assume that worldview, but in reality, these institutions are dominated ideologically and practically by the left.
We are in some ways the anti-establishment, the rebellious faction, the insurgent faction. I see this as a David and Goliath battle. I’m just one person with a mission. I am going after the most powerful institutions in the country with a ragtag network of think tanks and conservative media outlets. And we have been able to generate tremendous power.
Because you have been able to find whistleblowers within these agencies who will leak you documents?
Yes. If we want institutions that work for Americans, that are consonant with our values, we’re going to have to encourage people to come forward, and support them. What I’ve found is that a common theme for almost all of the whistleblowers I’ve worked with is that these are people who love the country, and who joined public service to accomplish a tangible good. These are people who believe that institutions really can serve the interest of the common man.
Often these are people in middle age. The agencies they’re in now are very different from the agencies they entered twenty years ago. They feel targeted. Scared. Bullied — and they feel completely alone. Even our military officers and soldiers feel fear. They feel that there has been an ideological campaign to uproot conservative values and principles. They are sounding the alarm that we are losing these institutions.
That is a point I keep trying to make to fellow conservatives: that the revolution has already marched through the institutions. If you think power is simply a matter of who holds elective office, you’re missing the main story.
Yes. What’s shocking is the uniformity of these [Critical Race Theory] training sessions, across very different kinds of institutions. In my reporting, whether we are talking about a school district in Tennessee or a federal agency, all of these training sessions are almost completely the same regarding their mechanisms for indoctrination. It’s kind of an organic totalitarianism that is arising everywhere, and that is now being implemented by political radicals within institutions and in street protests. Antifa and Black Lives Matter street protests are direct extensions of this ideology of Critical Race Theory. They’re all emerging from this unitary militant ideology.
Once it gets a foothold, it’s almost impossible to resist. If you disagree with CRT, embedded in that [disagreement] is an admission of your own guilt, or transgression, or evil. It’s designed in a way explicitly to prevent dissent, and if dissent emerges, to crush it.
It’s not surprising that people are scared. These true believers will stop at nothing to destroy their critics.
Oh, I have had threats, harassment, vandalism, people coming after my wife and kids, you name it. But doesn’t principled dissent require great risk? There are two ways you can fight this: the first is by appealing to civil discourse, moderate pluralism and debate. That strategy has failed. The ‘principled dissent’ strategy is the only one that remains. We have to stand up to institutions that could obliterate us at any moment. We have to steel ourselves with our principles and have the confidence that those principles will ultimately protect us, whatever the odds.
On a practical level, we have to realize that we don’t control the playing field. We have to be willing to take risks. Courage begets courage. One person who stands up can overturn totalitarian systems. Andrew Klavan said to me that being a conservative requires being willing to lose things. Once that clicked in for me, I felt a sense of comfort and calm about my work.
That’s a key thing that anti-communist dissidents told me about their experiences: that if you’re not prepared to suffer losses, you will never prevail. I think the chapter about the importance of suffering as a dissident is the most important one in my new book.
In the Soviet Union you risked losing your life. We don’t face that, but it’s not nothing. I feel sometime – and I especially did when I was living in Seattle — physical danger, physical threats. I had people doxing my house and where my kids go to school. People were putting threatening posters in my neighborhood with my face on it, encouraging others to attack me. Those things got no media coverage, had no politicians speaking out against them. This is tolerated by the ruling class. These activists work as foot soldiers of the dominant ideology.
I hear from people all the time who tell me, “I would love to speak out, but I can’t.” Let’s say you’re a 55-year-old civil servant, two years away from retirement, and feel like you can’t take the risk. I tell them to take the risk that you can. Be an ally of the people who step forward.
How can potential whistleblowers reach you?
Send me something at [email protected]. That’s a secure e-mail drop. I’m actively building new sources and documenting. We can make progress. We can keep hammering away at these folks. We have to realize that even in a Republican administration, we are outside of the institutions. Our framework has to be one of rebellion, of an outside resistance force against deeply corrupt institutions.
You no longer live in Seattle, but in a small town. Is this an advantage?
Having a conservative community around me has allowed me to be more courageous and outspoken. With the Internet and technology, we can do this kind of work from anywhere. I think there’s an advantage to living outside of the cities. Tucker Carlson is running the most popular cable news show on television from his houses in Maine and Florida, outside the media corridor. This is a huge, huge advantage. I think we’re just now starting to realize how useful this is to decentralizing power.
Tucker Carlson was key to your success against Sandia. You appeared on Tucker to talk about it, and the next thing you know, the president acted. What role do you think Tucker Carlson plays in this guerrilla media ecosystem?
I think Tucker is hands down the most courageous man in media, period. I think that he’s really had an evolution. I remember in high school watching him with the bow tie on CNN, and following his transformation. He’s the most powerful voice in conservative media. He’s fearless. He’s been incredibly effective in fighting the left organizations trying to attack him.
He realized two things. First, that doing the journalism, that breaking hard news on the issues, is actually important. A lot of cable hosts are all about chitter-chatter and opinion. But Tucker breaks hard news, and pushes the argument forward.
Second, he’s learned that you have to fight back. When The New York Times tried to dox his residence in Maine, he punched them back ten times harder than they came at him. And they backed down. We have to realize we’re operating on the opposition’s epistemological battle space. In that world, power must be met by power. That’s the only way you can do it. The ‘peace through strength’ mindset is essential, and I think he’s demonstrated that better than anyone.
It’s like you said to me [about Sandia]: our side never wins fights like this. But this time, we did. It shows — and I really firmly believe — that we can win. I’d love to see this effort expand. I’d love to see us come up with partnerships across these institutions, and really wage war against the ideology of Critical Race Theory and the political capture of institutions. We’re on the right side, and we can win.