Stop the Coup 2025 Founder on the Dangers of the Heritage Foundation’s Authoritarian Playbook

Image: Elvert Barnes/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

The Project 2025 plan published by the Heritage Foundation is, in the words of Peter Montgomery, “an unprecedented collaboration among former Trump officials and the Right’s legal and political infrastructure [that] would enable Trump to make good on his threats” of autocratic government should he be reelected. “This should be a cause for alarm,” says Montgomery.

Anne-christine d’Adesky, a longtime investigative reporter, organized colleagues into the Stop the Coup 2025 campaign to provide “information and resources to fight back and be prepared for Project 2025’s anti-gender, anti-democracy agenda.” At a rally outside the Heritage Foundation in January d’Adesky told the crowd: “What’s amazing … about Project 2025; it’s so extreme that we don’t even have to exaggerate its contents or even editorialize. We just broke it down to tell you what they planned.” 

RD recently spoke to d’Adesky about the role of Christianity in Project 2025, what it would look like if implemented, and what US voters can do about it.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you tell us about the origins of the Stop the Coup 2025 project and what you’re doing?

I was really struck when I looked at Project 2025 because I hadn’t heard anything about it. When I really began to look at it, I thought, wait, this is really different.

So I began digging into it a little bit and contacted some friends of mine who were journalists. I said, what do you think of this? This looks like it’s got some real teeth to it. Why are we not hearing more about it?

We had a couple dozen people come together and decided that we should do a project to really mobilize attention. We needed to break down Project 2025 and make it understandable so that people themselves could decide what they thought about this.

Initially, we wanted to call our project “Stop Project 2025,” but nobody knew what Project 2025 was. So my colleagues who are activists said we should just call it “Stop the Coup 2025” since it is in fact an administrative coup. 

It’s not the same thing as January 6th, but it is, in both intention and publicly stated goals, a desire to destroy the administrative state, take apart the federal government; essentially a politicization of the government to put in place what I would call an authoritarian government. Or maybe an oligarchy in the sense that you have a president and you also have a set of loyalists. So what we’re talking about is a plan, a blueprint, to put in place a change of government that is extremely radical.

Let’s talk about that for a second. On your site, there’s an unofficial “What Can I Do?” document, which says that Project 2025 defends three pillars of power: Christianity, Whiteness, and patriarchy. Why is it important to notice the Christianity part of that equation?

Many of the authors of Project 2025 are Christian nationalists who believe in a very [fringe] vision of Christianity. Essentially, they want the Bible to supplant secular law.

Some of them make that very much a straightforward statement. It’s kind of a long-term goal to eventually make the United States a Christian nation.

It also specifically calls for making both our domestic and our foreign policy reflect what some refer to as “traditional family values.” But here the interpretation of those family values is kind of a fringe religious position.

In law, it not only reflects what some people call “originalism,” but it reflects more and more another theocratic interpretation of law. A lot of the laws now being challenged in court focus not only on things like abortion and reproductive freedom, or DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion], but also things like government authority over the private sector, corporations. Areas like food safety, air safety, or climate change, are all subject to what we would consider a theocratic interpretation of both law and religion. So there’s a fusing here.

To give you an example, they would love to get rid of USAID altogether, but they can’t do that. So there’s a call to make it an agency that reflects family values. Anyone seeking foreign assistance would have to agree to that set of principles. So it would be anti-LGBT, anti-diversityin other words, no DEI—and anti-choice. And if you aren’t in agreement with that agenda, then you’re not gonna get any US money.

We’re not just talking about health or HIV, or even LGBT programs. We’re talking about humanitarian assistance, international trade, all of it. This is a monumental potential impact.

I know a lot of groups that are working in areas of disaster relief and catastrophe, nutrition and health, HIV, LGBT and maternal health, and other things. Many of these groups, 50 to 80% of their budgets come from USAID programs. What’s gonna happen to them?

It would also be a reversal of a great deal of American policy. I’m thinking about the work the Bush administration did with PEPFAR.

Exactly. PEPFAR funds quite a bit of these health agendas, not just in the area of HIV, but malaria and TB and waterborne diseases. I mean, here we’ve had a COVID epidemic. So everything having to do with pandemic preparedness has also been impacted.

And not just that. They’re very much attacking the FDA, regulatory federal agencies. They want to take away the power of the federal government to regulate industry.

I was just writing yesterday about labor and quoted someone who’s in an area that we think probably has nothing to do with this world, which is seafood, the seafood industry. This is an academic saying, this is so dangerous for us. If you gut the government and you remove all these senior level experienced professionals who know what we’re supposed to be doing in the seafood industry, what happens to food safety? You’re gonna bring in people who have no experience, who can’t manage, and who could put in place an agenda based on an ideology that is fundamentally theocratic.

It’s also about advancing religious education, taking money away from the Department of Public Education and giving it to private sectors, particularly charter schools and private schools, and really trying to mandate that Christian education supplants secular education. If you look at it in terms of money, that’s where the money is going.

I’m fundamentally a journalist. I clearly wear my activist hat because I need to say that this is an unprecedented attack on our democracy. It’s an attempt to put in place an agenda that is so dangerous that I think we really need to talk about it. The first thing Stop the Coup 2025 did was we literally just presented what Project 2025 is saying. We didn’t need to do any editorializing. Because it really speaks for itself.

Obviously, it advances a certain stripe of Christianity. It’s not about what progressive leaders of faith think. Obviously, it’s advancing Christianity versus any other faith, any other religious tradition, and saying that that’s the only one that should be taught. That it should become the law of the land. We know that many, many people who are in faith-based communities would not be in support of this agenda.

But I think it speaks for itself. We need to talk about this in terms of how do we get the word out about this? We’re doing our best. We want people to come to our website and take the information, then go and use it in a way that can speak to their communities from their own perspectives.

That gets at my next question, which is in that same What You Can Do? document I mentioned earlier. It suggests giving a message of hope as part of the work. How can voters encourage one another in this sort of nerve-racking time?

Fear is certainly a motivator for people, but fear doesn’t necessarily make you wanna go and try to make change or tell other people about things. It makes you wanna go on Netflix and read about what’s happening in the royal family, right?

What I talk about with people is that we’re facing a tough situation, particularly in the next election. We’re not telling people how to vote. We’re talking about Project 2025, because this actually isn’t even about Trump. This is about the conservative movement. They’ve selected Trump because he’s probably willing to go along. But we’ve seen everyone else, DeSantis, everyone else who’s come forward in the Republican administration has said that they’re down with this agenda.

I’ve been looking at what the lessons are of countries who lost their democracy, like Hungary, like Poland, etc. It’s very interesting to see.

For example, in Hungary, the opposition has been talking about how in the two years before [Viktor] Orbán came to power, they were so caught up in talking about social issues or identity politics that they stopped talking about the rule of law. They stopped talking about the democracy that they wanted. Now that they’ve lost their rights, that’s what they’re working on. They think they’re gonna end up in five years or 10 years or 15 years with a stronger democracy but at a high, high cost.

This is again where faith communities come in, which is the critical work of talking about the fact that, no, we don’t have a perfect democracy. Our democracy is broken in that sense. It doesn’t deliver to everyone. We have inequity. But there’s a difference between trying to build from a place where you still have a constitution and a bill of rights and a free-ish press and the right to speak out versus a democracy or autocracy where if you speak out, you may be punished.

We need to give people a way forward so they can feel like they’re participating in building a stronger democracy. There will be people who say, I can’t see my way forward and I’m not gonna participate. But I think that there’s enough people who are really engaged and who really care.

One of the things in the narratives out there is that people feel despair because they feel like there’s nothing you can do. But in fact, there’s tremendous things you can do. We know how to fight library bans. We know how to fight school board takeovers. We understand the playbook now. What’s so important about Project 2025 in some ways is that we now know exactly what the Far Right wants to do.