Rehabilitating McCarthy: Doug Phillips’ Festival Award

In another illustration of the broadly disseminated influence of the religious right in the tea party, Christian Reconstructionist Doug Phillip’s San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival gave its Jubilee Award to a film entitled Agenda: Grinding America Down; watch the trailer and you’ll find all the major talking points of the tea partiers. Even the spokespersons interviewed in the film represent the demographics of the tea party: over 50, almost entirely white and overwhelmingly male.

If, like many, you have puzzled at the widespread tea party assertions that America is being overtaken by godless socialism and communism and the conflation of those political philosophies with Nazism, this trailer will show you how those charges serve as shorthand for a larger critique of contemporary society including advancements in rights for women. There is an idealization of pre-1960s America invoked by the use of old photographs and video (including comments from a young Ronald Reagan) and hints of some cold war style conspiring, ominous dark cloud-filled skies and black and white photos of people persecuted by 20th century communists. There are also documents from Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee in a context that seems to suggest we should return to the era in which “real Americans” dealt seriously with communists.

Agenda asserts that “the Left” is “either ignorant or they’re evil.” “Liberal” Americans (and anyone who does not embrace their agenda is a liberal) are, in the film, literally called the enemies of America.

The film claims that there is an agenda designed to “dumb-down our children, undermine our families, re-write our history and promote obscenity and immorality everywhere that they can.” These criticisms are made, of course, by folks who want to eliminate public schools, promote Patriarchal families where men have almost absolute authority over women and children, teach David Barton’s version of history and secure continued legal discrimination, and even bigotry, against sexual minorities.

Controversial former Idaho legislator Curtis Bowers received the $101,000 award for the film that developed from an essay he wrote as a result of what he claimed was his 1992 covert infiltration of a communist party meeting. His 2008 essay called feminism, environmentalism and gays rights evidence of the advance of communism.

In what Doug Phillips, not so humbly, called the “greatest acceptance speech [he’s] ever heard in [his] life,” Bowers lauded Phillips for his “vision…to not only create Vision Forum that has motivated us and driven us to be better home schoolers, to be better parents, to be bonded with our children…but then the Film Festival.” Referring to Phillips as the “man who said we need to ‘take’ this part of culture,” continued Bowers.

“I would never have made a film in my life if I had not come to the …Filmmakers Academy and Film Festival just last year. I was so motivated and so inspired by what they said and what they taught us. They made me realize how important this is: how powerful media can be, and how important it is that we be involved in that.”

In a moment of honesty, Bowers seemed to say more than he intended, “I have no idea how to make a film.”

AGENDA: Grinding America Down (Trailer) from Copybook Heading Productions LLC on Vimeo.

jingerso@unf.edu'

Julie Ingersoll is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Florida. She is the author of Evangelical Christian Women: War Stories in the Gender Battles and is currently writing a book on the influence of Christian Reconstructionism.