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Trolling RI Pols: Bullying public officials for doing the right thing

The Rhode Island arm of the national right-wing foundations — Koch, Bradley, Scaife, and others — have targeted Jennifer Lima, a school committee member in North Kingstown, with totally ridiculous accusations about critical race theory, marxism, and brainwashing impressionable minds. 

The Gaspee Project, a secretive conservative Rhode Island political group, is funding the gathering of signatures for a recall election against Lima.  A statewide non-profit, associated with the “RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity,” Gaspee is trying to make Lima into a statewide issue. The front page of their web site currently features a hysterical screed against her, “Extremists have taken over the Democrat Party…don’t let them come for you next!” Dig deeper and you come to another blare: “Stop the Indoctrination of our Children! Help us remove the pro-CRT & Marxist school committee member.” (“CRT” here stands for “critical race theory.”)

An inflammatory postcard mailing accused Lima of corruption, abuse of power and trying to “organize a group of Marxists to indoctrinate our children with defund the police propaganda and divisive racial and gender theories.” In fact, the recall petition against her cites only “opinions that her constituents do not share.”

Lima’s central offense is simply having the temerity to call for giving all students a fair shake, and to ask the schools to look at the ways in which some students might not get one. Running on that platform, she got more votes last fall than any other local candidate.

Lima is not pushing to bring CRT into NK schools. In fact, to climb down into the weeds for a moment, she disagrees with CRT theorists who claim that racism is inevitable because of the structure of our society. She says it is not, but it takes people with awareness and sensitivity to eradicate it. Ms. Lima ran on the premise that our classrooms need to be a place where being anti-racist is actively taught and is an expected part of the learning culture, and that is how we will build a world where all children are equally able to reach their potential.

She believes students deserve to be presented with age-appropriate, accurate lessons on historical and contemporary issues that help them become the critical thinkers we need to make this a more just and equitable nation.

As a matter of policy, the Gaspee Project and its associated Center for Freedom and Apple Pie squawk if you ask who their donors are, but they have received hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past decade from the Donors Trust, a pass-through non-profit whose purpose seems only to be anonymizing the hundreds of millions of dollars that pass through it. Donors Trust is a creation of the Koch network, funded by Koch money.  The Center for Freedom and Apple Pie will doubtless call this a lie, but they will also refuse to provide any kind of accounting of their donors that might demonstrate otherwise. They do not dispute their membership in various networks of Koch-funded right-wing organizations, like the State Policy Network, an association of “think tanks”, whose website suggests removing restrictions on for-profit hospitals as the first priority for dealing with the coronavirus.

Nonprofits like the Gaspee Project are classified as “social welfare organizations” and are allowed to do public education, but are not allowed to participate in elections. But the rules for recall elections are vague and do not restrict the signature-gathering period. So, this local arm of national dark money feels free to tamper with our school committee.

This is sad, and nothing more than an attempt to bully a school committee member, who manages both to embrace her serious purpose and remain full of joy. Their goal is to make an example of her, to discourage others like her from seeking elective office. 

Harassment and bullying just like this is why Emily Cummiskey resigned as South Kingstown’s School Committee chair in June, and Christie Fish left the committee altogether. Mission accomplished in SK, they move on to NK, looking for another scalp.

If you’d like to see the Gaspee Project Screed, visit gaspeeproject.com/recall

Read more about the Donors Trust on Senator Whitehouse’s web site: whitehouse.senate.gov/news/speeches/time-to-wake-up-277-donors-trust

And here: sourcewatch.org/index.php/DonorsTrust

If you’d like to support Jennifer Lima in her efforts to resist the trolls, please contribute here: secure.actblue.com/donate/lima4nk