Young Americans for Freedom Hates Freedom

Young Americans for Freedom Hates Freedom

On this episode of The Time of Monsters, Lauren Lassabe Shepherd discusses the censorship-loving right wing student group.

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Young Americans for Freedom Hates Freedom | Time of Monsters
byThe Nation Magazine

There’s an old joke that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor even an empire. The right-wing student group Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), founded in William F. Buckley’s house in 1960, is similarly misnamed. It’s not young; the current head, Scott Walker, is 55. It’s definition of American is very narrowly partisan and reactionary in ways that most Americans would reject. And as for freedom, it has a long history of aligning with administrators and government authorities to suppress its political foes– something I wrote about in a recent column. Most recently, YAF launched a vexatious lawsuit designed to cripple Dissent magazine and its affiliated podcast, Know Your Enemy.

To talk about YAF, I spoke with historian Lauren Lassabe Shepherd, author of the forthcoming book Resistance from the Right: Conservatives and the Campus Wars in Modern America. In that book, Lauren documents how groups like YAF groomed the ideological extremists who have taken the GOP into authoritarianism. In our talk, Lauren and I look at the group's ties to powerful plutocrats and politicians as well as their strategy of using legal power as a political tool. 

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There’s an old joke that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor even an empire. The right-wing student group Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), founded in William F. Buckley Jr.’s house in 1960, is similarly misnamed. It’s not young; the current head, Scott Walker, is 55. It’s definition of American is very narrowly partisan and reactionary in ways that most Americans would reject. And as for freedom, it has a long history of aligning with administrators and government authorities to suppress its political foes– something I wrote about in a recent column. Most recently, YAF launched a vexatious lawsuit designed to cripple Dissent magazine and its affiliated podcast, Know Your Enemy.

To talk about YAF, I spoke with historian Lauren Lassabe Shepherd, author of the forthcoming book Resistance from the Right: Conservatives and the Campus Wars in Modern America. In that book, Lauren documents how groups like YAF groomed the ideological extremists who have taken the GOP into authoritarianism. In our talk, Lauren and I look at the group’s ties to powerful plutocrats and politicians as well as their strategy of using legal power as a political tool.

This transcript was computer-generated and may contain errors.

[00:00:00] Jeet Heer: The old world is dying. The new world struggles to bere born. Now is the time of monsters. With those words from Gramsci, I welcome you once again to the Time of Monsters Podcast . This week, I wanna talk a little bit about the Young Americans

[00:00:17] for freedom. Which sounds great. You know, like, who doesn’t like young people? You know, we all love Americans and we all love freedom. But this group actually is much more sinister than its name denotes. And like the Holy Roman Empire, one could say that the name is a misnomer because it’s really neither young.

[00:00:35] Nor really committed to American principles and certainly not committed to freedom. The reason that I’m thinking about the young Americans for Freedom is of a because of a news item that appeared in the New York Times last week. There’s an excellent podcast called Know Your Enemies which is sponsored by Descent Magazine, the venerable journal of democratic Socialism in America.

[00:00:55] And that podcast featuring Matt SitMan and Sam Adler bell delves into the history of the right and as part of Their Patreon page. They have various levels of sponsorship one could give. And these are sort of done in a poetic form of different elements of the right, so you can give at the level of a John Cher, and you can give at the level of, of.

[00:01:18] A West Coast straussian, and you can give at the level of young Americans for freedom. Now as it turns out, neither the birchers nor the Straussian seem to mind about this and but the young Americans for freedom, sued for copyright. Infringement. And it appears that for the last few months no, your enemy and descent were under the guns of this lawsuit.

[00:01:40] Last week the lawsuit was withdrawn because it turns out the young Americans for Freedom are not just malignant they’re kind of inept. They had didn’t actually have the trademark that they. Claim that they had the trademark had been let to lapse for financial reasons a long time ago.

[00:01:57] So there’s really no basis for this. There might be a future occasion where the lawsuit is revisited if they can manage to get ahold of the trademark. But right now, This is where the matter stands. So because of this little story, I thought like it might be worth delving into the history of the young Americans for Freedom and talking about, you know, who this group is and in some ways there’s a.

[00:02:21] Pattern or history here where this nuisance lawsuit kind of makes sense that this is a kind of very familiar pattern for this group group. So to talk about the group, I’m very happy to have on Lauren Lassabe Shepherd who’s the author of the forthcoming book, resistance from the Right.

[00:02:39] Conservatives and the Campus war in Modern America. This book is coming out next month and I highly recommend it. It’s very illuminating. It’s you can, it’s like a flare in the night where you can suddenly see the landscape of the campus right, and understand its history and understand a lot of what’s going on right now.

[00:02:56] Has a history that goes back many decades. And one of the groups. That Lauren talks about in her book is The Young Americas For Freedom. And so I thought this would be perfect opportunity to have her on. So first of all, Lauren welcome to the program.

[00:03:10] Lauren Lassabe Shepherd: Hi. Thank you for having me.

[00:03:12] Jeet Heer: So let’s just talk about, let’s just get some history here. Who are the young Americans for freedom? Or is there known ya Is that how, how it’s pronounced? Yes. Yes.

[00:03:22] Lauren Lassabe Shepherd: Yeah. So um, YAF is a, a right-wing student group. It’s a very trad conservative group that is designed for members under 30 although you usually see Yaf historically and, and even in some, somewhat today on college campuses.

[00:03:40] So they have a pretty young membership. But they’re, as you kind of alluded to earlier they’re not always calling the shots, right? They take a lot of direction from above. So as, as we talk about, or as I talk about in the book YAF was founded in 1960 as a William F. Buckley Jr. Project. He and along with some other sort of movement leaders had this idea of like, you know, this campus is a, just a liberal bastion.

[00:04:08] We really need our own representation in there. And so the whole idea was we’re going to create a counter group to, you know, all of the leftists. Student organizations. And so that’s sort of where Yaf was founded. That was the idea. But then it really grew into something much bigger. They became community activists and they really worked with other groups on campus especially the college Republicans and even like larger Republican organizations.

[00:04:35] And so they did a lot of community outreach and. So, yeah, I mean, my, my book really focuses on their activities in the late 1960s, but I mean, YAF has decades of history. And,

[00:04:48] Jeet Heer: yeah, yeah. No, no, go ahead. That it, the, the Buckley aspect is very interesting. It was actually founded in, I, I believe William Buckley’s living room in Stanford, Connecticut, in the sort of a state that he had there.

[00:04:58] And it was, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Oh, it was, it, was it Sharon? Yes. Yeah, the

[00:05:03] Lauren Lassabe Shepherd: Sharon Conference is yeah. Is the name of the founding, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

[00:05:06] Jeet Heer: So the in Sharon, Connecticut and the now in 1960 Buckley, a national review. Are in the sort of process of trying to like change the Republican party, which, you know, they feel that like under Eisenhower has become too liberal and too moderate and too willing to accept this sort of liberal status quo.

[00:05:24] And that the real project of National Review conservatism is to take over the Republican party for the right. And they’re like sort of, you know, like remarkably successful. In that, in the 1964 their candidate, Barry Goldwater is able to do that. And one reason he’s able to do that is that there was a real.

[00:05:39] Mobilization of these activist groups which includes, you know, affiliated groups like the John Birch Society very famously. But also YA was very important in that like, in its early days, like they were really able to, you know, get out there and mobilize voters and really able to. Overwhelm sort of the more moderate Rockefeller Republicans because they did a type, a level of activism and of mobilization that really the Republican party hadn’t seen up until that point.

[00:06:08] And, you know, Barry Goldwater is you know, famously the sort of nominee in 64 and goes down to like a massive defeat, but that’s not the end of either. Yeah. Or this larger conservative project. They continue to make inroads in the Republican party. And I think, I think where your story takes up and where your book really makes its most original contribution is in what happens in the late 1960s where they, you know, move beyond the sort of partisan politics.

[00:06:37] Of the Republican party and, you know try to use the sort of campus struggles to Mel together a broader coalition. So do you wanna talk a bit about that? Like is I think that’s the sort of crucial moment.

[00:06:49] Lauren Lassabe Shepherd: Yeah, absolutely. So one of the, one of the hard things about studying gafe is it’s, it’s difficult to get your hands on their papers.

[00:06:57] I was able to interview a lot of the leadership. And they were always very, some people were, were pretty forthright with like, here look at these artifacts. But others were a little bit dodgy about, oh, I don’t know where our records are kept. Oh I think they were destroyed in a fire, or they’re in some warehouse somewhere, or ask this person and that you kinda get passed along.

[00:07:15] So it’s really hard to figure out. What exactly happened because the books that have been written about Yaf have been written by Yaf Sympathizers. So like one of the best known books Wayne Thorburn, a Genera a Generation Awakes was written by a former Jaffer. The other big one that we have is John Andrews, the other side of the sixties, which is not quite so sympathetic, but as you alluded to The Goldwater campaign was not the end of Yaf or Goldwater, right?

[00:07:43] It was for Yaf. It was certainly the beginning. It was like their first big taste of freedom. And John Andrew’s book takes us up to 64. So yes, my contribution is, is what happens the rest of the sixties. Right. How does Yaf do battle against campus? Leftists and sds and students who are striking for like black studies programs.

[00:08:03] So I mean, that’s what they’re doing on campus. They’re antagonistic. They’re of course taking direction from their, from their elder mentors. But I mean, the people like William Rusher and luckily the advice that they’re giving them is how to set up a campus newspaper and how to write op-eds, right.

[00:08:20] Those sort of things. But what Yaf does on the campus is it’s really like. Antagonistic sort of in your face. We’re gonna counter protest at new left events. We’re going to steal all their slogans and co-opt them and edit them so that they fit our purposes and really just like, draw lots of attention especially to maybe the less missteps.

[00:08:41] So let’s say that some student knew left. Organization like SDS or S NCC for example gets in trouble with campus administrators. One of the things that Yaf would do is like really publicize that and create facsimile and send it out to as many different, you know, readers as they could, could get that in front of, to really show like, these people are, are communists.

[00:09:03] They’re trying to destroy the campus. They’re, they’re just a bunch of red dupes and. Needless, and they, they just want to rip the campus apart from the inside out. So that’s sort of their function in service to the larger conservative movement. And one of the things that they’re, that they’re also able to do really well is to threaten their own administrators and their own tiers on campus with lawsuits.

[00:09:27] And so leading back to. You know, the big story about Know Your Enemy? This is nothing new, right? This is something that Yaf has used as a tool since since its beginning, since its earliest days.

[00:09:39] Jeet Heer: The lawsuits are very important and, and your book documents says very well.

[00:09:43] And basically I mean, the irony is that these lawsuits are some of them based on the very civil rights laws that YAF and the Amer conservative movement opposed. But indeed the argument is you know, like that campus protest. Sit downs or other things infringe on the rights of students.

[00:10:01] And so they were putting pressure on administration, administrators to crack down on the new left. And, and one thing I wanna add to this is that the the. Making the new left and the black power movement, the sort of boogeyman was very important to the right. Mm-hmm. And to yaf because these are yaf and the conservative movement were sort of facing internal divides in the late sixties, as was the rest of American society.

[00:10:26] On the conservative side, you saw divisions between the sort of, you know, emerging racist populism of a George Wallace who had some support among Yeah. Well, you know, not, we shouldn’t overstate it, but it wasn’t everyone, but there were a few. People from that group or certainly rival groups.

[00:10:41] They were able to like take the mantle of the the right and fly under the flag of Wallace and of sort of the reassertion of white dominance. But then on the other end, there were the libertarians who were you know, very pro capitalists, but weren’t very happy with things like the Vietnam War and.

[00:10:58] We’re sympathetic to elements of the new left on issues like drugs on the draft. And so a group like Yapp is sort of basing internal divisions in the late sixties, but by making the left the new left s d s and the sort of emerging black power movement and the emerging assertion of black identity as like the sort of demon figures, they’re able to like really unite.

[00:11:23] Groups that would otherwise be at each other’s throats, right? Like, isn’t that part of the dynamic here?

[00:11:28] Lauren Lassabe Shepherd: Yeah, I mean that’s a, that’s a through line that runs through the entire story. So all the little internal divisions, I mean, we still see some of that today, although the libertarians don’t really play a giant role in, in like the G O P for example.

[00:11:42] Yeah, there’s, there are these factions between the traditionalists who are the largest group libertarians, but there’s also some radical anarchists who are. Who kind of on the, on the political spectrum kind of are shifty? I guess it depends on what, what the issue is. And yeah, gaff has some really, really deep internal risks because of these sort of ideological differences.

[00:12:02] And it all comes to a head. And their 1969 summer convention in St. Louis, which gets its own own chapter in the book. But yeah, one of the things that the conservative elders are, are successful at doing is, as you said, getting all the students to realize, look, okay, we may disagree about all these other things, but don’t we all really hate the left?

[00:12:22] Can’t we all disagree that this enemy is, is something to, you know, unite together to attack? And so I think of course, that that is still the interest today with, with. Matt and Sam’s really excellent podcast. I, I know they spend a lot of time, I mean, they even say themselves, they’re pretty sympathetic to the right, probably overly and they have a lot of listeners from the right, a lot of young listeners from the right.

[00:12:48] I know Nate Hockman who is sort of like the head of the new, new right. Has been a guest on, on some of their episodes before. So yeah, they’re listened to very closely by, Important people on the right. And so I can, I can see where this antagonism comes from. One of the things that they also discuss a lot in their podcast is why is there not this equivalent sort of unpacking of the left from the right?

[00:13:14] Right. Like, why don’t conservative intellectuals you know, deep dive, do deep dives like we do to try to really understand You know, their version of the enemy. And, and that’s a great question. And I think rather than engage with these arguments in good faith or these beliefs and ideas in good faith, it’s just easier to Throw a slap lawsuit at them, which is what we see happening right now.

[00:13:35] Jeet Heer: Absolutely. And I, I think that your book shows that this was happening even in the sixties, that, you know, I mean, there’s a lot of things in the new left you know, especially the sort of white new left of sds that one can argue with you know, from a variety of points of view, including left points of view.

[00:13:49] But and there’s a lot of like arguments within the black community about the black power movement, but. The the right-wing response. And I think your book really like, demonstrates this in like excellent detail. The right-wing response was not to engage with the new left or the black power movement on the level of ideas or on the level of like, what are the objections, what is going on there?

[00:14:09] The, the, the approach was a purely. Partisan political demonizing effort to say that these are like anti-American subversive forces that are, you know, destroying society. And therefore we have to call in the cops. I mean, these are the campus Karens. Of the right. They’re like, you know, like, let’s call the university president.

[00:14:30] Let’s call the trustees. Let’s call the campus police and let’s crack heads, you know? Yeah. And now, now, now this approach, I think is sort of structurally built in or overdetermined by the sort of history of yaf. I mean, first of all, Like, okay. This organization was founded by like, you know, in William f Buckley’s living Room.

[00:14:49] And the other big person there is is it Stanton Evans? Mm-hmm. Yeah. Stan Evans. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Stan Evans. And now these are the two sort of founders and. They’re both guys who have like a long connection with McCarthyism. And you know, like Buckley wrote a, you know, his first book was like arguing that academic freedom is a superstition and we need to purge the university’s of Keynesian, economist and atheist.

[00:15:12] And then he supported, you know, like McCarthy and the sort of anti Subversive purge of the 1950s, which is, you know, one of the largest, if not the largest attacks on free speech in American history. And Stan Evans is like totally on board with this, you know, his, his family are like Birchers coming out of the John Brady Society.

[00:15:30] He himself, you know, would later write a lot of Harry. Biography of Joseph McCarthy. So, so partially like, you know, like the origins of this group are in sort of McCarthyism and the, you know, the use of state power and, and the social power of capital to like pur free speech on the left. That is like, you know, absolutely.

[00:15:50] But beyond that the sort of ideological origins, there’s a structural fact that as your book documents, you know, these groups. Are very tied to existing social power. I mean, the, the sort of patronage of Buckley is one indication, but like, like where they, where does a group like Yeah, get all its money?

[00:16:09] Cuz they’re doing a lot of activities. They have like student newspapers all over the place. They have like a magazine. They have a lot of speakers. Where are they getting their money and like, how are they able to do all this?

[00:16:19] Lauren Lassabe Shepherd: Yeah. So unlike other groups there was, so I, I guess I should say too my book documents three or four major major groups.

[00:16:26] Yaf is one of ’em, but there are some equivalents there. So Yaf is like an activist college group. There’s the ideological role, or intellectual group, which is Intercollegiate Studies Institute. A Lee was also a founding member of at Yale. And then there’s the college Republicans who are more more partisan.

[00:16:44] And then you’ve got, Campus Crusade for Christ, which is religious. So anyways of all these groups, YAF really doesn’t have to do a ton of fundraising because it has all of these connections, right? They don’t have to go knocking door to door, like college Republicans might have to. Or, you know, the ISI students don’t really ever fundraise at all.

[00:17:03] And the reason that they don’t have to is because they have donors with really deep kids. And so, one of my favorite stories in the book, you mentioned campus newspapers. At the University of Southern California, ya’s paper was. Paid for completely by the trustees of the institution, right? They wrote, they wrote major checks of a couple of hundred dollars.

[00:17:25] And they had it coded as an alumni donation. Well, that paid for an entire print run for however many weeks they needed. And so by having a handful of really large donors, they were able to conduct all these extra activities and These, these are students of means anyway, right? And in the late 1960s, of course, we do have students that are that are using like federal money to go to college, and they’re, they’re doing work study programs and they could take loans.

[00:17:51] Lot of these YAF students come from families of some. I, I go into this in the book and I talk about you know, some of their their demographics and, and their backgrounds. But I mean, money’s. Just not an issue until it does become an issue later in, later in the 1960s. And the group kind of gets a little bit quiet through the seventies and eighties.

[00:18:13] And I think that’s just because those original two class cohorts like the, the founding students in 1960s and then maybe the second generation. I say generation, we’re talking in four year generations. These are college students. The second generation that comes through, they’re all graduating and they’re all moving to dc right?

[00:18:30] They become lawyers or they go on to grad school and, and maybe still stay in the academy or they, they do whatever it is and they kind of leave that organization behind, but they bring their money with them elsewhere. And they go on to found, Think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and some others.

[00:18:47] So I mean, it’s, it’s almost easier to follow the money by following the individual students and not the organization. Right. So, yeah, you kind of mentioned this earlier, like they, they lose their copyright cuz they don’t, they don’t. Or their trademark because they don’t even like keep up with it. It’s like forgotten in the back.

[00:19:05] Like, this is some false project and now we’ve moved on to these other things. And so anyway, I, I just. I can kind of see through their records and I, I obviously wanna keep studying gaff later than the 1960s, but I can kind of see in the records that I’ve found, they go through a lot of financial struggles.

[00:19:22] There’s this resurgence of interest kind of around 2011, right, right around the Tea Party era. And right around the Occupy Wall Street era. And so there’s, there’s this big resurgence and all of a sudden it’s like, well, we need to bring these old groups back. Right. So we see Young America’s Foundation is what Yaf is known as.

[00:19:41] Now it’s no longer young Americans for Freedom. We also see libertarian ups surges in, in that same era in the 20 teens. There’s young Americans for Liberty, which is like the libertarian spinoff of Yaf. And so yeah, these groups are still around, but the, the money kind of ebbs and flows into, you know, whoever’s making the most noise at the time.

[00:20:02] Or whoever’s appointing Supreme Court Justices at the time, I should say, whoever’s getting the most done.

[00:20:09] Jeet Heer: And, and so, so, so, I mean, I think the money really explains a lot of the sort of strategies, both the money and the sort of social connections that come with the money. These are, you know, they’re college students, but they’re the sort of college students that are, you know, most likely to have dinner with a trustee or with a, you know, campus president.

[00:20:26] And their whole sort of instinct and approach to politics is like, let’s work with the authorities. And let’s actually force the authorities to do, you know, the stuff that we, we want them to do, that we can be a pressure point aimed not at fellow students. But at the powers that be to sort of entrench power.

[00:20:45] Mm-hmm. And so they have a real sort of, you know litigious and carceral approach. Like, you know, the, they like to use lawsuits in prison, you know, the, the, the, yes. The dual threat. And occasionally I think your book also documents, you know, with an overtones of vigilante violence, right. Of like, you know working with the campus police in ways that are like, you know, like to intimidate fellow students.

[00:21:05] Lauren Lassabe Shepherd: Yes. Um, Or to um, claim themselves. Deputies, they, I mean, they just deputize themselves and say, we’re gonna help the police put this riot down on campus. It’s funny that you say the students that they’re more likely to have connections to like presidents and trustees. There’s a really fantastic set of images and video in the two-lane archives of Newt Gingrich, who is a college student.

[00:21:30] He’s a. He’s in grad school. I think he’s working on his PhD at Tulane in 1969. And he’s sitting in the office with the president and he’s sitting there cross-legged, lean back in the chair. And they’re just having this very casual conversation. Like it’s completely normal for this graduate history student to just be, you know, entertaining the president and, and coming up with policy.

[00:21:50] Like, I don’t know exactly what they talked about, but I’m sure it had something to do with, well, how are we gonna respond to this? And so yeah, that’s, that is just. Mind blowing to me because today, if a college student were to, you know, have an audience with a president or with the board of trustees it would be much more formal, right?

[00:22:09] It would not be behind closed doors. It would probably be almost a little bit token or ceremonial. And we’re listening to what you say. But no, I mean, back then these students actually, at least they felt like they had some real pull with powers that be.

[00:22:22] Jeet Heer: I think that’s right. I think what your book makes clear is, you know These were college students, but they were on a trajectory, on a career path towards power.

[00:22:32] They’d already, you know, because of their social connections and their social status and their inherited wealth and the connections that that brought, they were already. You know, like thinking about future careers in the Republican party, in, in politics. And therefore their voices carried a lot of weight even though they were college students.

[00:22:50] And so this is like a very particular type of group and. One thing that uhs theme of your book, which I think is sort of related to this, is the sort of artifice of all this. I mean, there’s something organic about, you know, I think, I think they were genuinely upset about the the new left and the black power movement.

[00:23:07] And there was a genuine outrage that, you know, fueled the sort of reaction to that. But there’s other ways in which, yeah. Really seems like, you know, like an AstroTurf group that is coming outta money and that is like just trying to mimic the left and to provide a left alternative.

[00:23:24] But even though, I mean like, you know in terms of their sort of prominence arise, they sort of preceded students for a democratic society. I don’t think they preceded the sort of, you know, left presence on campus. And they’re, they’re kind of like, almost like a. Bio-engineered group, you know, like let’s have like, you know, the conservative response to the new left.

[00:23:41] And one sees it like, sort of culturally in the way that they kind of mimicked and appropriated a lot of the sort of left discourse. And one sees, you know, like they published an instruction manual in the sixties called Duet on publishing a conservative underground newspaper. Well, you know, like.

[00:23:59] Underground newspapers were a big thing. And the left underground newspapers were genuinely underground. They were like, you know students using the newspaper ease of access to mimeographs and print to like, you know, put their voices out the, the right wing underground, like they were all, you know, financed by these big plutocrats or, you know, in the case of California by the trustees of the university.

[00:24:20] Like how can you have an underground newspaper as published by the trustees? And, and. Yeah. What I find also fascinating is the use of folk music. Which is a, like, because obviously folk music was a big part of the sort of culture of the left in the sort of sixties and, and earlier, you know, going back to Wordy Guthrie.

[00:24:37] And so the, you know, they created their own sort of, you know, right wing folk bands including I believe a group called The Goldwaters.

[00:24:44] Lauren Lassabe Shepherd: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That was, well, so that’s, I think that was maybe not, yeah. Then some yappers in the Goldwaters. That was more the college Republican project.

[00:24:53] So it’s interesting that you bring that up. So Jaff actually really itself, not all of the college, right? A lot of the like students in campus Crusade for Christ, were very much into like the whole folks scene and the hippie vibe and the counterculture. But you know, we’re radical for Jesus. Right.

[00:25:10] So they kind of had their own angle to it. Yeah, actually really. Hated like the John Denvers and like some of the big folk singers because they thought that they were anti patriotic. Right. And it, it’s not like Yeah. Is out there, you know, listening to oh my gosh, I forget the, I forget the song.

[00:25:28] There’s a. This is a major country song. The Okie from Muskogee. Yeah. It’s not like they’re all out there listening to something like that, but I mean, the, you know, the lyrics and the sort of like protest spirit that’s in, or like the anti-war spirit that’s in Denver they, you know, a lot of the members didn’t have a, a good taste for that.

[00:25:46] And it’s also.

[00:25:47] Jeet Heer: No, they, but they wanted to imitate it cuz they, they, I mean like you often see them creating their own song. The style. The style, the style, absolutely. Yeah. And then I, I’ll just quote like one set of lyrics, which I think really gives the feel for the, the, the type of humor so-called and, and the attitude.

[00:26:03] So it this, the lyrics go like this, back to back, belly to belly, bring their bodies with knee palm jelly, back to back, belly to belly. It’s a Hanoi jamboree. So I, I, I would suggest that Bob Dylan had nothing to worry about with learning like this. But but also, I mean, the sort of whole mimetic or, you know, copycat aspect is I, I think really gets to what this group was all about.

[00:26:25] Cuz I mean, there’s two levels of copycat. They’re copying, you know, William Buckley and his sort of style mm-hmm. Of, you know, erudite conservatism and, you know, being groomed to be the next Buckley’s. But also copying, you know, or trying to mimic or parody. Aspects of the left culture, and as you mentioned, the sort of with the revival the recent revival over the last decade of, of Yap and other right-wing college groups.

[00:26:47] I mean, that’s, I think a direct response to these, you know, sort of resurgence of the left as a social mobilizing force, you know, with Occupy Wall Street, with Black Lives Matter, they’re once again mm-hmm. Trying to sort of mimic imitate and, you know, create their own AstroTurf response.

[00:27:03] Lauren Lassabe Shepherd: Yeah.

[00:27:04] Yeah, absolutely. And you really see that with groups like campus Reform or Charlie Kirk’s, turning Point u s A, it’s all about, you know, making up clarity or a mockery of, and, and like today, there’s not really an equivalent s d s, there’s not like an equivalent new left on campus. So it’s just the student, right?

[00:27:22] Like. Shouting and screaming towards the culture, like towards whatever imagined fears they have about, you know, today, like trans students or you know, maybe students who are in some way affiliated, like with the Black Lives Matter movement, especially closer, especially a couple of years ago. But yeah, I mean they’re really, they still have that sort of shock jock attitude.

[00:27:45] One of the things that, that you and I had discussed earlier is, is this concept of the affirmative action bake sale. So they’ll take, you know, some, some real social problems, some real actual phenomena like Like, like wage disparity and make a mockery of it, right? Say they’ll a fundraiser, and I’m doing that in air quotes because it’s not, it’s more about making headlines than it is about raising any money.

[00:28:07] They’ll do a fundraiser that’s a bake sale and say, okay, well for Asian students it’s gonna cost this much money, but if you are a black woman student, it’s gonna cost this and it’s supposed to. It’s just supposed to, to rile people up to get them upset. And yeah, I mean those, those tactics are still there, but they don’t exactly have some direct equivalent to copy, cuz like I said, there’s no, there’s no SDS today.

[00:28:31] I’m not sure, maybe some Bernie Bros. I’m not sure what the, the equivalent of the new left would be on college campuses today.

[00:28:38] Jeet Heer: I think that’s right. There is no left per se for them to par uh, to mimic, but they still have this ambient sense that, you know, like young people are more to the left than they’ve ever actually been.

[00:28:51] And that there’s a sort of like this ambient culture that they’re trying to the parody. And, and, and that’s sort of the shock jock aspect. I mean, it has a real sort of cultural history, which comes, I, I, I think YAF is very important for that. There was a sort of in, in Indiana a Yaf affiliated paper called The Alternative which, you know, again, I, I think in your narrative of like, you know how these college students took the right wing money that they had and went out to bigger things.

[00:29:16] It then became the American Spectator and mm-hmm. You know, like a sort of major monthly publication which still continues, I think, in a sort of attenuated form. Mainly online with a few print publications here and there. But I mean, the American Spectator It you know, was drawing on this sort of like culture of outrage and of tweaking that one saw in sort of underground comics and in National Lampoon, but applied to the right.

[00:29:40] And I, you know, p g O’Rourke is maybe a sort of transitional figure coming outta National Lampoon. And, you know, then ready for the American Spectator. But I mean, it’s basically, I was thinking of it as sort of nuke the whales humor, right? It’s like, like let’s come out with an outrageous bumper sticker that will, you know, sort of provoke and.

[00:29:58] It has had a real culture impact. I mean, I think that sort of frat boy humor used by the right mm-hmm. Is the, then later the basis for like Rush Limbaugh and sort of the things he does and, and there are alters of Cerv provocateur on campus and altering the culture that, that borrow from it. But you know, again, I.

[00:30:18] It always seemed to be very, like culturally narrow, like in the sense that I think other forms of satire, whether it’s a national Lampoon in the seventies or s n l or Even the Simpsons in South Park, you know, like all had elements of this, but were able to reach a much broader audience, whereas this, the, these things, these things always seem to me and I’m not the best audience for them, but they always seem me like, kinda like in joke things for like, you know they seems sophomo in the exact meaning of the word.

[00:30:48] It’s a type of frat humor.

[00:30:51] Lauren Lassabe Shepherd: Yes, and it’s. It’s definitely meant to build. And this is, this is I think, a point that you were trying to allude to. It’s built, it’s meant to build internal comradery. Yes. It’s not meant for outreach. Right. They’re not trying to reach a, a bigger audience. They’re trying to say, you know, you’re already part of this, you know, conservative in group.

[00:31:08] Aren’t these the things that we think are funny? And so, Yeah. So another point too that I wanted to get back that to what you said earlier is about outreach. Like there were lots of moderate students on campus that YF thought, well, we can just, we can just pull in the moderates if we try to convince everyone that Let’s use one of the examples that I use in the book is is the athletic program.

[00:31:30] So during the late sixties during the war, lots of students who were from s d s and other groups were equating like football and the violence of football to the violence of the war. And they were saying, well, we don’t need to have the, a football program on campus. Those sorts of things are issues where Yaf can just take it and run with it, right?

[00:31:50] They can say The new left is trying cancel was a phrase that existed back then. But essentially the new left is, is trying to cancel football. And so why don’t you join our group and stand up and fight the left and, you know, all of that. And so, I mean, again, you, you can see things like that today through Turning Point usa.

[00:32:08] They’ll find some really just egregious bad example from the left and, and just take it and run with it and say like, this is what the whole entire philosophy is like.

[00:32:18] Jeet Heer: And I, I think more in, especially in sort of the last few years, the sort of trans issue has become that, like they’re, they’re really trying to like sort of highlight sort of controversies about trans athletes and use that as a way to rally more moderate people or people are necessarily coming from the right and use it as a wedge issue.

[00:32:36] To what success? I mean I don’t know. I mean, like there’s ways in which like, Yeah. Always had to like, operate partially as a friend group because their own reputation was not that great. I think in your book, you, you quote Richard Nixon himself you know, called him I believe nuts. Other as bad as like the, the campus laughed.

[00:32:56] So I mean, Richard Nixon is not on your side. I, I don’t know how many other people are, and I, I feel the same way, but more recent. Sort of campus provocations, like, I don’t know how much outreach that they’re successfully able to do. I mean, even on the trans issue, which I, we, I’ve discussed before on the podcast, like there’s a lot of evidence that like whenever this issue is kinda like raised and comes to the fore, it ends up alienating more people against the right, because they’re seen as like doing sort of like overreach into what are private decisions.

[00:33:25] So, so yeah, I mean, We but I think this stuff is still harmful, even if it’s not politically successful like it is. And Oh absolutely brings an element of sort of toxicity into the culture. And I think one of the big points of your book is that this sort of, you know, authoritarian turn of the Republican party that we’ve seen in recent years can be traced back.

[00:33:45] Partially to this, these sort of student groups that like, you know didn’t wanna win on the argument and didn’t wanna win through democratic contestation, but really felt that, you know as groups promoting a minority agenda a minority agenda in terms of like unpopular, broadly speaking, they can best succeed by aligning themselves with the powers that be and making themselves the sort of shock groups for the status quo.

[00:34:09] So I mean, and then.

[00:34:11] Lauren Lassabe Shepherd: Yeah. And then, and then once they’re in power themselves, burning the bridge behind them, right? Yeah. Doing everything they can to make sure that they hold onto their power. Absolutely.

[00:34:20] Jeet Heer: And I, so, so in some ways I, I think your book becomes ultimately about much more than these sort of campus students.

[00:34:27] I think in recommending. I, I wanna end by just recommending the book to listeners when it comes to the next month, because, you know, this is an issue that a lot of people who care about American democracy have been grappling with. Like, where does this authoritarian turn come from? And I think your book offers One narrative that like, you know, really clarifies the sort of origins of an authoritarian politics and of a polarizing politics that seeks to sort of demonize the enemy.

[00:34:55] And it even if you don’t care about the campus laughter, you know, yeah, I think listeners will get, like, from this book a real, you know, sense of. What is happening in America right now? And on that note, I wanna thank you once again for, for being on, on the sort podcast.

[00:35:11] Lauren Lassabe Shepherd: Yes, thank you.

[00:35:12] Thanks for having me.

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