Colorado Republican Party Leader Kristi Burton Brown and other prominent Republicans in the state have joined the national conservative frenzy around critical race theory.

Critical race theory is the academic concept of structural racism – the idea that racism is not simply a matter of individual prejudice, but is also embedded in our institutions and has a continued impact on our society.

It’s the latest conservative boogeyman, with many on the political right claiming that critical race theory is itself racist, anti-American, and “Marxist.” Some states have gone so far as to limit teaching about history and racism in the U.S. in an effort to ban critical race theory in schools, despite the fact that critical race theory is primarily studied in institutions of higher learning, not a third-grade classroom.

Cue Brown, who took to the radio last week to rile up listeners about critical race theory “being forced on or about to be forced on” kids in Colorado schools:

“One of the biggest issues around the state is critical race theory, without a doubt, because parents, I mean, shocker, parents don’t want their children to sit in school and be told that by virtue of things they cannot help, their race, their ethnicity, they are either the oppressed or the oppressor,” Brown said on 630 KHOW on Friday. “None of their choices matter. None of their character matters. Nothing they choose to do in their behavior can change the fact, according to critical race theory, that they are either an oppressed or an oppressor.”

Brown then praised Deborah Flora, whom she refers to simply as a “Douglas County mom,” for “speaking out” about critical race theory at her local school board meeting.

“As Deborah points out, reading rates and math rates are very, very bad for children here in Colorado,” Brown said. “But that’s not what the school boards in many cases are focused on. They’re focused on critical race theory and teaching children that.”

“Have your children been subjected to critical race theory? Have you testified and given your thoughts on it?” Brown asked listeners, encouraging them to call in to the station and speak up at school board meetings.

But Flora is more than just a Douglas County mom – she’s also a conservative media personality and activist who hosts a radio show on KNUS, the same far-right radio network that allegedly fired Craig Silverman for criticizing Trump on air.

In fact, a report released yesterday by the progressive media watchdog Media Matters for America reveals that many of the parents that conservatives describe as “everyday Americans” speaking out against critical race theory at school board meetings and elsewhere just so happen to be Republican operatives and media personalities.

The Colorado conservative talk radio show that Brown hosted last week also played a clip from Quisha King, whom Brown introduced as “a black mom in Duvall County, Florida, who took her opportunity at a school board meeting to slam critical race theory.” MMFA reports that King, who also appeared on Fox News, is also a Republican strategist who served as a regional engagement coordinator for the Republican National Committee in 2020 and now runs a political media consulting firm.

“I don’t want to have [my son] grow up and be defined by his skin color and be assigned a permanent status that he had no choice or control over any more than Quisha King, that black mom in Florida, wants to see her children defined by that. And I think that’s something that unites us as moms across the nation,” Brown said.

Another recent MMFA report shows how the topic has exploded on Fox News. The network has mentioned critical race theory over 1,300 times in the past three and a half months, with mentions doubling month over month, as shown in the graph below:

Fox News talking head Christopher Rufo, who’s also a senior fellow at the right-wing Manhattan Institute, admitted on the network that the critical race theory frenzy is part of a political strategy, MMFA reported:

“Yes, I envisioned a strategy—turn the brand ‘critical race theory’ toxic—and, despite having virtually no resources compared to my opponents, willed it into being through writing and persuasion,” Rufo said.

Fear-mongering over what kids are “subjected” to at school appears to be a useful conduit for conservatives’ moral panic du jour, from sex ed to inclusivity for transgender kids to covid-19 measures. It all seems to be a part of Republican operatives’ strategy to manufacture outrage by promoting misinformation and propping up operatives as everyday people.

Take, for example, the issue of mask-wearing in schools as another case study.

In an April Fox News segment on mask mandates with Tucker Carlson, Carlson gave a shoutout to Stacy Adair, whom he refers to simply as “an elementary school teacher” in Colorado Springs:

“Adair showed a photograph of what a kindergartner’s face looks like just an hour into the school day,” Carlson said. “The mask the kindergartner was covered to wear was covered in dirt around the mouth and nose. ‘I don’t need to tell you it is very unhealthy for a student to breathe through this mask,’ Adair told the board. Of course it is. But officials ignored her and then they doubled down.”

FEC United Email

Adair, it turns out, works for FEC United, a local right-wing activist group, as the leader of their Pikes Peak Education pillar, according to a February email from the organization asking supporters to show up for meetings.

During her radio appearance last week, Brown emphasized that focusing on education is part of the GOP’s strategy to win over unaffiliated voters:

“Education is one of the most important issues to unaffiliated swing moderate voters around the nation. Whatever else you care or don’t care about, you care about your kids if you have them,” Brown said. “Children are a huge issue for voters today.”

Critical race theory has also been criticized by members of Colorado’s congressional delegation.

Congresswoman Lauren Boebert (R-CO) has called for banning critical race theory in schools, calling it “nothing more than modern-day racism” and claiming that “Democrats want to teach our children to hate each other.”

Congressman Ken Buck (R-CO) said on Fox News this week that “Marxist” critical race theory aims to “drive a wedge between Americans.”

“I would challenge Americans to find out whether this is being taught in their own schools and to make sure that they hold their school boards accountable,” Buck said.