One of the most audacious efforts in the history of American politics is currently being planned, not in smoke-filled rooms, but out in the open. It’s named Project 2025, and, if it succeeds, it promises to remake American government and civic life for decades. 

Launched by the Heritage Foundation, Project 2025 is an ambitious effort designed to help a future Trump administration hit the ground running. The project is already working to recruit, train, credential, and position loyal MAGA followers to become political appointees in departments across the federal government in the event of a second Trump presidency. People hoping to win these coveted appointments under the next presidential administration can preemptively apply through the Project 2025 website.

But staffing federal agencies is not the primary goal of Project 2025. The primary goal of Project 2025 is to dramatically reorient the federal government towards social conservatism and a specific brand of right-wing Christian values. Staffing the agencies with apparatchiks is simply a necessary step in that larger goal. The real work begins once the apparatchiks are appointed.

The plan is not slapdash, it has been crafted in granular detail. Right now, you can read essays, by experts, on the Project 2025 website detailing specific plans for the capture and reorientation of every major federal department or agency. Some of the plans are mundane and predictable, but major nevertheless, such as the plan to reduce the influence of federal workforce unions after taking control of federal government personnel systems like the Office of Personnel Management. Others, like the plan to create a door-busting, armed deportation force under the Department of Homeland Security, read like something out of dystopian fiction. There is a plan to give the Federal Communications Commission a “national security” portfolio – and, doubtless, censorship powers soon after – and a plan to scale back the Federal Election Commission’s ability to regulate campaign finance. There is a plan for direct Presidential control of the Department of Justice, and a plan to use the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division to crack down on the teaching of diversity, equity, and inclusion curriculum.

The vision Project 2025 plans to enact is strikingly authoritarian – and it was meant to be. Project 2025 is explicitly constructed upon a theoretical legal framework rooted in a “maximalist interpretation” of the unitary executive theory, as the New York Times put it. The unitary executive theory, the maximal interpretation of which had its last heyday as the Bush administration’s attempted legal rationale for the unlawful torture of detainees, essentially asserts that the President has the authority to exercise total control over federal agencies. The theory’s intent is to vest the President of the United States with extraordinary authority which, in broad interpretations like the one underpinning Project 2025, effectively subordinates the legislative and judicial branches to the executive.

And yes, the reason Project 2025 is pushing the theory is to ensure that Donald J. Trump can return to office with as much power as possible – and immediately use it.

Altogether, the picture painted by Project 2025’s authors is nightmarish – the sort of political wishcasting which makes me glad to live far from Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, tendrils of that nightmare already extend all the way from the Potomac to the Platte. Though national in scope and focus, Project 2025 has direct ties to at least one Colorado organization, as well as to a controversial social studies program roiling school districts around the state: the American Birthright standards.

In 2009, Ninety-five years after Colorado Christian University came into existence as the Denver Bible Institute, the school birthed a new organization: the Centennial Institute. Housed today on CCU’s 26-acre Lakewood campus, the Centennial Institute is ostensibly a think tank which “works to enhance public understanding of the most important issues relating to faith, family, and freedom.” In reality, the institute has spent the past 15 years as the hub of Colorado’s conservative culture wars, steered into every storm under the guidance of its now-ousted longtime leader, Jeff Hunt.

For most of its history, the Centennial Institute has been known for one thing: the Western Conservative Summit. Held annually, WCS is one of the biggest conservative events to grace the front range. In past years, it has featured speakers like Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz. More exotically, WCS has occasionally attracted international guest speakers, like notoriously racist Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders.

Now, the Centennial Institute has an additional feather for its cap: the think tank is an official Project 2025 partner organization, working with groups from around the nation to vivify the Heritage Foundation’s authoritarian fever dream.


The collaboration should not come as much of a surprise: the Centennial Institute shares donors with many of the other Project 2025 partner organizations and with the Heritage Foundation itself. In past years, the institute has received large contributions from the Bradley Foundation, and outposts in Leonard Leo’s conservative dark money machine, like Judicial Crisis Network – also a Project 2025 partner organization – and the 85 Fund. Leo, the undisputed king of right-wing dark money, has been described as “one of the most powerful political operatives in the United States.”

The Centennial Institute is also a member of another large, influential conservative organization: the State Policy Network. One of the best-kept secrets in conservative organizing, the State Policy Network, or SPN, is a web of more than 150 member organizations, most of them self-styled as think tanks, which work together to craft an appearance of intellectual rigor and serve as a support structure for conservative policy goals. 

As I wrote last year

The network’s job is to translate the national organization’s agenda into local language and local policy to be passed by state legislatures. Member think tanks produce “studies” which start with the desired conclusions and work backwards. They produce white papers which serve no purpose other than applying a faint academish patina to the Facebook-infected will of their donors. And they know exactly what they’re doing

While the State Policy Network claims that its member organizations are free to do as they wish – “fiercely independent,” in the words of long-time president Tracie Sharp – that’s not the case. Rather, the agenda pushed by the national organization and its state-level affiliates is heavily influenced by the organization’s donors. Sharp, as Jane Mayer reported in a 2013 New Yorker piece, “acknowledged privately…that the organization’s often anonymous donors frequently shape the agenda.”

“The grants are driven by donor intent,” Mayer’s piece quotes SPN’s president as saying, adding that Sharp said donors often “have a very specific idea of what they want to happen.”

Though its name is not widely known – SPN is much less recognizable than its sibling organization, ALEC, for instance – the State Policy Network’s influence can be observed at every level of government, from the halls of Congress to your local school board. It was in that latter venue that SPN’s most recent Colorado-based effort made waves, and where Colorado’s other connection to Project 2025 can be found.

Last year, the Woodland Park School District became the first district in the country to adopt the American Birthright social studies standards. WPSD’s adoption of the standards was a much-needed victory for a major nationwide push to wedge conservative and religious curriculum into taxpayer-funded public schools. In the year-plus since the adoption of the standards in Woodland Park, the national coalition of organizations behind the standards have worked to see those standards implemented in Garfield County schools and the Elizabeth school district on the eastern plains, with much controversy and little success.

“Much controversy and little success” could, at this point, be the motto for Civics Alliance, the umbrella organization housing the coalition of American Birthright organizations. That coalition consists of more than 60 member organizations, the majority of which are affiliates of two mega-orgs on the right: the State Policy Network and the National Association of Scholars. Since the summer of 2022, Civics Alliance, backed by a firehose of conservative dark money, has worked to have the Birthright standards adopted as the official social studies standards for a number of state education systems, including Ohio, where it has languished in the state legislature for more than a year, and Colorado, where the State Board of Education flat-out rejected it before Woodland Park adopted it anyway.

Civics Alliance American Birthright Social Studies Standards

The American Birthright social studies program presents a highly specific version of American and world history, designed not for student questioning and engagement, but for rote memorization and regurgitation. It is a version of history in which Biblical figures like Kings David and Solomon are every bit as real and well-attested as George Washington or Alexander Graham Bell, and in which the horrors of colonialism and imperialism were blessings in disguise, helping to develop and modernize colonized lands and peoples. 

According to the National Council for the Social Studies, which has advocated against the adoption of American Birthright in any additional states or school districts, education under the Birthright material “would have damaging and lasting effects on the civic knowledge of students and their capacity to engage in civic reasoning and deliberation.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the organizations behind American Birthright and the organizations partnering with the Heritage Foundation to craft and push Project 2025 have many ties to one another. Many groups in both coalitions are funded by just a small handful of multi-billion-dollar private family foundations – like the Bradley Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the network of Koch foundations, and more. 

Colorado’s wealthiest citizen, billionaire Phil Anschutz, has also provided funding for groups in both coalitions. Anschutz is a major donor to Colorado Christian University, and has made significant contributions to the Heritage Foundation and multiple SPN-affiliated think tanks.

In addition to being backed by groups with the same funders, Project 2025 and the American Birthright standards are backed by many of the same specific groups. No fewer than nine organizations – the majority of which receive substantial funding from the foundations listed above, as I have reported in the past – are members of both coalitions: the National Association of Scholars, the American Family Association, the Claremont Institute, the Discovery Institute, Eagle Forum, the Family Research Council, the Heartland Institute, the Public Interest Legal Foundation, and the Mississippi Center for Public Policy are all members of the American Birthright coalition and Project 2025 partner organizations.

Though distinct organizations with distinct tax filings and boards of directors, the Centennial Institute, Project 2025, and American Birthright are not distinct efforts: they all exist at different nexuses in the same tangled web of well-funded conservative mega-foundations. 

The possible future implementation of Project 2025 is a chilling prospect: a stark redefinition of American values enforced by the power of the federal government. And not just any federal government, but perhaps the most tribal incarnation of the federal government in US history – as would be the case with a second Trump administration. Broadcast networks silenced with “national security” concerns, an interior security force deporting suspected immigrants with little process, teachers persecuted and even prosecuted for teaching facts. It can, in fact, happen here – and it might, soon.

But focusing entirely on Project 2025 as a potential future threat is the wrong lens. As the connections between that project, its member organizations, their funders, and those funders’ other pet projects show, Project 2025 is just one front in a multi-front campaign to remake American life. The Heritage Foundation is not a sentient being, making decisions for itself. Nor are the Centennial Institute or Civics Alliance. These organizations were created by, and remain funded by, a class of ultra-wealthy, hyper-ideological partisans who are ultimately interested only in the preservation of their own wealth – to the extent that many of them would gladly support outright clerical fascism if it guaranteed them a lower effective tax rate. When it comes down to it, the Heritage Foundation and other associated groups do not represent “the conservative movement,” they represent a small club of conservative mega-donors. 

These groups were not created by the movement, they created the movement. In any other country, at any other time, it would be uncontroversial and plainly factual to identify the wildly influential mega-donors erecting and puppeting the movement as oligarchs. 

Those who hope to push back against the multi-front campaign to remake American life make a mistake by placing all of their hope in electoralism, as if a second Biden term will stop the forward creep of American fascism dead in its tracks. The first one hasn’t; why would the second? It is true that Project 2025 can only be implemented in the event of a Republican Presidency – its enactment requires control of the executive branch of the federal government – but the other fronts in the oligarch-funded campaign to remake America are not dependent on the outcome of the November elections. They are advancing right now. Right now, children in Woodland Park are being subjected to a substandard, jingoistic version of social studies which hopes to shape how they will perceive and engage with politics as they age. Right now, the Centennial Institute and more than 100 other State Policy Network think tanks are churning out white papers to produce post hoc rationales for their donors’ wished-for policy proposals. 

Electoral victories can slow the implementation of fascism (which is, in my view, a good enough reason to work to secure those electoral victories) but they cannot cap the well, deep in the dark recesses of the human heart, from which the inclination towards fascism flows. It is an inclination which is not universal, but which has arisen and spread, like a contagion, in various times and places, like it is here and now. At its core, that is not a political problem. It is a social problem. It is not something the government or elections are likely to fix. It is something we must fix – and, if we fail to do so, it is something we must be prepared to fight. More to the point, though, federal electoral victories have little to no bearing on the plans pursued at the state and local level – like American Birthright, like whatever the Centennial Institute attempts to gin-up next – which have helped advance the ideology and emotional resonance of right-wing authoritarianism through the population even with a Democratic President in office.

Though it sounds trite, the only way to begin reversing the forward creep of well-funded American authoritarianism is with shared values, opposite and inverse to those values being thrust on an unsuspecting populace by donor-directed front groups. We must rally to oppose authoritarianism not simply on the grounds of it being authoritarian, but on the grounds that authoritarianism threatens what we value: our ability to live, love, work, and worship as we choose. We must oppose Christian nationalism not out of hate for Christian nationalism, but out of love for pluralism, out of love for freedom of religion.

We must, in short, stop simply opposing ideas which threaten us and start advocating for ideas which inspire us. We must find the areas of greatest overlap between ourselves and our nearest neighbors, and fight to defend that territory as it is encroached upon. We must know what we stand on, or we will fail to stand our ground. We must develop a cultural immunity to the astroturfed attempts to turn us into something worse than we want to be. Otherwise, we will forever be playing whack-a-mole against each new front in the billionaire-funded campaign to remake America in their own image.