This weekend on his Fox News program, Mike Huckabee -- who probably still harbors some kind of presidential ambitions -- brought on a special guest named David Barton to talk about the separation of church and state. Barton brought with him a number of cool colonial-era artifacts that he used to bolster his claims that "the separation of church and state is a myth."
Among them, for example, is a document signed by Thomas Jefferson that reads "in the year of our Lord Christ." Barton uses this to point out that Jefferson was an ardent believer in Christianity.
This is fairly typical of Barton's dishonest approach to the matter: It's unremarkable that Jefferson would sign his documents that way, since he was indeed a Christian -- but he was moreover a Christian Deist:
Individual deists varied in the set of critical and constructive elements for which they argued. Some deists rejected miracles and prophecies but still considered themselves Christians because they believed in what they felt to be the pure, original form of Christianity – that is, Christianity as it existed before it was corrupted by additions of such superstitions as miracles, prophecies, and the doctrine of the Trinity. Some deists rejected the claim of Jesus' divinity but continued to hold him in high regard as a moral teacher (see, e.g., Thomas Jefferson's famous Jefferson Bible and Matthew Tindal's 'Christianity as Old as the Creation').
And so it goes throughout the segment -- Barton trotting out bits of arcania with which he bolsters his claim, and Huckabee credulously lapping it all up.
But it take only a little research to uncover the fact that Barton has a history of specious research. For years his book, The Myth of Separation -- which he's been selling since the early '90s -- has featured bogus quotes, made-up nonsense, and flat-out falsified history that has been dismantled time and again. Rob Boston debunked Barton thoroughly back then, and his methodology has not improved measurably since. (Here's a page devoted to exposing Barton's multitude of bogus quotations from the Founding Fathers.)
Moreover, as Boston notes, Barton has a long history of dalliances with the extremist fringes of the far right:
Barton also has ties to extremist elements. In his literature, Christian Reconstructionist authors and organizations are sometimes recommended. Reconstructionist activist Gary DeMar's book God And Government is suggested reading, and Reconstructionist-oriented groups such as the Plymouth Rock Foundation and the Providence Foundation are touted as resources.
Perhaps most alarming, Barton also has had a relationship with the racist and anti-Semitic fringes of the far right. According to Skipp Porteous of the Massachusetts-based Institute for First Amendment Studies, Barton was listed in promotional literature as a "new and special speaker" at a 1991 summer retreat in Colorado sponsored by Scriptures for America, a far-right ministry headed by Pastor Pete Peters. Peters' organization, which is virulently anti-Semitic and racist, spreads hysteria about Jews and homosexuals and has been linked to neo-Nazi groups. (The organization distributes a booklet called Death Penalty For Homosexuals.)
Peters' church is part of the racist "Christian Identity" movement. and three members of The Order, a violent neo-Nazi organization, formerly attended Peters' small congregation in LaPorte, Cole. After members of The Order murdered Denver radio talk show host Alan Berg in the mid 1980s, critics of Peters' ministry in Colorado charged that his hate-filled sermons had spurred the assassination.
Barton also campaigned in Washington state for Ellen Craswell, the 1996 GOP gubernatorial candidate, who ran on a "Reconstructionist" platform and later became involved the far-right Constitution Party.
The Myth of Separation similarly was a staple on the book tables at Patriot/militia gatherings in the 1990s, and was sold prominently through mail-order outfits like the Militia of Montana.
It sure is interesting to watch all this militia stuff from the '90s come bubbling back up in the post-Bush era. And it's even more interesting to see how it's getting mainstreamed by cable-TV talkers.