Lever Time with David Sirota

On this week’s Lever Time, Audit hosts and friends of the show Josh Olson and Dave Anthony are joined by journalist and media expert John Knefel to discuss how the conservative propaganda operation PragerU landed a major new partnership with Florida’s public schools.

PragerU produces short-form video content on politics, social issues, and history. The media organization’s stated goal is to “promote American values through the creative use of educational videos” and “[offer] a free alternative to the dominant left-wing ideology in culture, media, and education.” 

In 2021 PragerU launched PragerU Kids, focused on “educational content for children.” Now PragerU has raised the stakes, as it was recently announced that PragerU Kids content has been approved as supplemental teaching material in Florida public schools — even though PragerU is not an accredited educational institution. Prager isn’t planning to stop there: They recently published an online petition to get their content into schools across the country. 

Hosts Josh and Dave, who examined the rise of PragerU in the latest season of The Audit, sit down with John to discuss PragerU’s official entry into the American education system. They break down how PragerU managed to get approved in Florida, how their work plays into the larger conservative movement to capture public education and siphon taxpayer money to fund charter schools, and what parents can do to stop PragerU from indoctrinating children.

A transcript of this episode is available here.

BONUS: On Monday's bonus episode of Lever Time Premium, exclusively for The Lever’s supporting subscribers, we published our recent live chat with Yale law professor Samuel Moyn where we examined whether or not Congress has the authority to regulate the Supreme Court and the troubling legacy of Chief Justice John Roberts.

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What is Lever Time with David Sirota?

From LeverNews.com — Lever Time is the flagship podcast from the investigative news outlet The Lever. Hosted by award-winning journalist, Oscar-nominated writer, and Bernie Sanders' 2020 speechwriter David Sirota, Lever Time features exclusive reporting from The Lever’s newsroom, high-profile guest interviews, and expert analysis from the sharpest minds in media and politics.

David Sirota: [00:00:00] Hey everyone, and welcome to another episode of Lever Time. I'm David Sirota. On today's show, we're going to be talking about the ongoing right wing campaign to indoctrinate your children and everybody's children in America. Prager University, the online conservative propaganda network, which is not an accredited educational institution, it is not really a university, their materials have been approved to be taught in public schools in Florida. No, this is not a joke, unfortunately. For today's interview, our friends and the hosts of the Audit podcast, Josh Olson and Dave Anthony, are going to be talking with a journalist from Media Matters to discuss Prager's plan to infiltrate the schools across the country.

Josh and Dave have been covering. [00:01:00] on the audit podcast, which is a part of the levers podcast network for our paid subscribers. We're also always dropping bonus episodes into our lever premium podcast feed. . This past Monday we published our recent chat with Yale law professor Samuel Moyn about Supreme court.

Oversight. Whether or not Congress can actually regulate the court and the inconsistent history of people like Chief Justice John Roberts. Get this. Did you know that Democrats, when they controlled Congress, could have added language to bills? Saying that the Supreme Court needed a supermajority or a unanimous vote to overturn laws in America.

That's what we discuss with Sam Moyn. It is a fascinating discussion. We also took some questions from the Lever's supporting subscribers as part of a previous live event.

If you want access to our premium content, head over to levernews. com and click the subscribe button in the top right to become a supporting subscriber. [00:02:00] That gives you access to the Lever Premium podcast feed, exclusive live events, even more in depth reporting, and you'll be directly supporting the investigative journalism that we do here at The Lever. I'm here today as always with Lever Times producer, producer Frank. Hey Frank.

Frank Cappello: You know, David, I don't often get worked up, uh, covering a lot of the stories that we cover here at The Lever. You know, I, I feel like, maybe you could speak to this, but you know, you, you, if you do this, this kind of work for a living, you sort of get numbed to all of the, the terrible, terrible news that is out there.

But I gotta say, putting together this episode on PragerU has really, really worked me up. this is kind of like a huge deal, and I am really worried about, uh, it's implications. And, and also the fact that not enough people are talking about

David Sirota: Yeah, this is the darkness. This is the darkness, man. I mean, Prager University and the, the real right wing propaganda machine is some really, really dark stuff. Uh, and Florida, by the way, uh, while they're allowing [00:03:00] Prager University into their public schools, they're also apparently embracing, uh, teaching kids about climate denial, uh, which is a, a separate but, um, similar track in the state of Florida.

And if you're eye rolling right now and saying, oh, well, it's just Florida being Florida, well, Florida tends to export. What it does to a lot of other states to millions and millions of people across the entire country. So this is not just a Florida problem. We're going to get to that in just a bit. But before we get to that discussion about Prager University, I first really quickly wanted to talk about a new story that we just published over at the lever at lever news dot com.

It was by Andrew Perez and Julia Rock, and it's about Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. Uh, it's part of this ongoing, uh, set of questions about whether Congress can regulate the court amid the court's massive corruption scandals. Back in 2005, then Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito[00:04:00] explicitly promised during his confirmation process that he would follow ethics statutes previously passed by Congress.

, but now that the Senate is considering new legislation. that would require the Supreme Court to adopt a formal code of ethics. Alito has suddenly seemed to change the spirit of that position. He has recently insisted that, quote, no provision in the Constitution gives Congress the authority to regulate the Supreme Court.

Period. Now, I, on social media, jokingly likened that declaration to one of my favorite scenes from Almost Famous, where the main character does this.

Almost Famous clip: am a golden god! I am a golden god!

Frank Cappello: Ahem.

David Sirota: Samuel Alito apparently thinks he is a golden god, that he just [00:05:00] gets to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and nobody in America is allowed to regulate him at all, not even the lawmaking branch of Congress.

What's incredible about this is that he's In some ways, trying to invoke a separation of powers argument, I think, right? He's trying to say, well, you know, the Supreme Court's one branch, Congress is another branch, uh, the executive branch is another branch, and Congress can't regulate our branch. Which is a lot of horseshit, because it goes against the idea of checks and balances, right?

Frank Cappello: isn't he in essence saying here that the Supreme Court is above the law?

David Sirota: that's, that's literally what he's saying, because let's be clear. In order for Congress to impose that code of ethics, it actually has to get two branches. Right? It's got to get the bill passed, and then the executive branch, a. k. a. the president, would sign it. That's how the [00:06:00] system works, right? So, Samuel Alito's kind of trying to invoke a separation of powers, checks and balance.

Issue were a separate branch while undermining the whole idea of checks and balances at the core of the U. S. Constitution, and there are provisions in the Constitution, which very explicitly empower the Congress to to to regulate, uh, the jurisdiction, the size, et cetera, et cetera, of the judicial branch, the court, the Supreme Court, et cetera, et cetera.

So on its merits, it's also a lot of horseshit now. Let's put it in context. Alito's declaration to the Wall Street Journal. It all comes after ProPublica reported this past June that Alito had failed to disclose receiving a private jet flight from billionaire Paul Singer, whose hedge fund then had business before Sam Alito and the Supreme Court. Alito when that story came out, he claimed that he had not recused himself from [00:07:00] that case because, quote, I was unaware of his connection with any of the listed entities and I had no good reason to be aware of that. Even though of course, Paul Singer's role in the case was widely reported.

Frank Cappello: that detail was so wild to me because this is a Supreme Court Justice saying, Look, I didn't know all of the details of the case that I was ruling over. Isn't that your one job?

David Sirota: Like you have one job, dude.

Frank Cappello: don't you have an entire staff whose job is to find all of those details? That blew my

David Sirota: Yes. He does that. He does have a whole staff to do that. . So let's, let's put it all together. He's trying to get confirmed. He's like, I explicitly promised that I will follow ethics statutes previously passed by Congress.

Then He gets exposed for not following those ethics statutes. Then Congress is like, yo, they're not following the current ethics statutes. We're gonna just, so we gotta strengthen the ethics [00:08:00] statutes. And then Sam Alito runs out and screams, I am a golden god. No provision in the Constitution gives Congress the authority to regulate the Supreme Court, period.

Clearly... It's a reversal of his stated position, or maybe he lied to Congress. Maybe he just straight up lied in order to get confirmed. Now, if he was deliberately lying, like saying, I'm going to respect and follow ethics laws previously passed by Congress, and then he goes and breaks them and he knew he was lying, let's remember it's illegal to lie. After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, ending federal abortion protections, some congressional Democrats raised the prospect of impeaching the conservative justices who misled lawmakers during their confirmations about their views on that precedent. So, my question in all this is like, did Sam Alito lie at his confirmation hearing?

Did he deliberately lie? Or was he telling the truth, then after a couple years he just stopped caring? [00:09:00] about what he said at his confirmation process, and then when his flagrant corruption got brought into the light, did he just say, Hey, listen, um, actually Congress can't do anything to me. I mean that, if I'm, I'm answering my own question, I think Sam, Sam Alito actually does think he's a golden God.

He's never been elected to an office. He's been appointed to a lifetime appointment and just thinks he can do whatever he wants without any consequences. And I think he's actually calling, trying to call Democrats bluff, like, are you going to do anything? And to me, that's the big question. Are Democrats in Congress actually going to do Republicans, of course, control the House, um, but I want to mention this. Some Republicans in the past supported, uh, touted imposing an ethics code on the Supreme Court. So, I don't necessarily... I think this automatically breaks down on purely [00:10:00] partisan lines, although maybe I'm being naive. I mean, the Republican Party has changed somewhat, but could this be that controversial?

And ask like, don't let judges get bought off. Or not disclose being bankrolled, being given gifts. Don't let them do that in secret. How can this be controversial? That's the part that kind of blows my mind. Like, how has this not already been done? Right, Frank?

Frank Cappello: That's another wild thing, uh, in reading this story is that I can't believe there already is not a formal ethics code. That seems like a bare minimum what the Supreme Court should have to be following.

And the fact that that wasn't set up, I don't know, decades or centuries ago is another mind blowing

David Sirota: Right. I mean, they already have a lifetime appointment. You have to affirmatively impeach these people in order to remove them from their job. The least you should do The absolute bare minimum with a lifetime appointment is to say you gotta follow these like basic rules, like really, truly [00:11:00] basic rules that other federal employees have to follow.

And that's what Sam Alito is trying to, trying to prevent because as I said, he apparently now thinks he's a golden god. Okay, let's stop there because we should get to our main interview about Prager University. University, which I should always remind everybody is not a university, uh, PragerU's campaign to infiltrate America's public schools.

That's coming up after the break. Welcome back to Lever Time. For our main story today, we're going to be talking about the right wing campaign to indoctrinate Your kids, my kids, America's kids. That may sound like an exaggeration or a hyperbole, but it is very sadly not. If you've never heard of Prager University, which is not a university, I'll give you a little bit of background.

Prager University, is a conservative online propaganda network that produces so called, , educational videos, on a variety of [00:12:00] topics. Their stated goal, is to, quote, promote American values through the creative use of educational videos and offer a free alternative to the dominant left wing ideology in culture, media, and education.

Though it's important to know that Prager University, which has the word university in its name, again, it's not an accredited educational institution. founded in 2009 by conservative radio host Dennis Prager, PragerU has become one of the most effective propaganda networks in the entire country, primarily because of their short form video content that's very easy to share online.

Their videos are often riddled with inaccuracies and mischaracterizations

and they do everything from promoting climate change denial, to attacking public education, to regularly spewing racist and homophobic nonsense. While a lot of Prager's financials are unknown, we do know They've received big funding from donors like [00:13:00] Bernie Marcus, the pro big business, uh, conservative co founder of Home Depot, uh, Dan and Ferris Wilkes, the ultra religious fracking billionaires who've pushed climate denial, and the Bradley Foundation, which also pushes right leaning educational initiatives.

PragerU has also received a large portion of its funding from hundreds of thousands of smaller donors. Then a few years ago, they launched PragerU Kids, which focuses on so called educational content for children. PragerU Kids has produced videos like a cartoon Booker T. Washington whitewashing the history of the Civil War, an instructional video telling young girls to conform to gender stereotypes and an explanation of the benevolent era of British colonial rule in India.

Side note, it was not benevolent. Now PragerU has raised the stakes. As it was recently announced that PragerU Kids content has been approved to [00:14:00] be used as a supplemental teaching tool in Florida. Public schools. This is Ron DeSantis's Florida, but Prager isn't planning on stopping there. Prager U recently published an online petition to get Prager's content into schools across the country.

So for today's interview, our friends, Josh Olson and Dave Anthony, the host of the Audit Podcast, which is part of the Lever Podcast Network, they are joined by journalist John Neffel from Media Matters, which is a right wing media watchdog group, and they discuss Prager's official entry into the American public education system.

John breaks down how Prager managed to get approved in Florida, how their work plays into the larger conservative movement to try to capture public education or siphon taxpayer money to fund private schools. And they discuss what parents can do to try to organize and stop the right from indoctrinating children.

Josh Olson: It's been a little while since we finished [00:15:00] doing our deep dive into PragerU over at the audit, but, uh, it's kind of hilarious that what, like a week or two after we finished, it gets announced that they've been, uh, put into the Florida. School curriculum, um, something about that speaks to how effective our show was, I think.

But, um, we've got a real journalist here with us. Uh, John, how, how are you doing, sir? You've been doing some great writing on this stuff.

John Knefel: uh, great. Thanks so much for having me. I'm glad you liked the story.

Josh Olson: I want to, I want to contextualize it a little bit because, you know, the mainstream media has been talking a lot about Florida and DeSantis and the school system. And, uh, you did a piece a little while back on his attacks on public education, about how long it's been going on. How he goes about it, um, and most importantly, because I think the media has failed miserably on the PragerU story, how the media has failed in covering that story first.

And can you kind of lay the groundwork a little bit before we get into Prager?

John Knefel: Yeah, I did a couple stories a while [00:16:00] ago about the New York Times coverage specifically about DeSantis. And, as is always, or is often the case with the New York Times, they, uh, sort of reported on his attacks on public education. And embrace of, um, anti black racism and anti LGBTQ rhetoric, uh, only as, as it relates to his electability.

You know, there's this sort of, cult of the savvy that places like the New York Times always kind of, uh, revert to where. Every question is, uh, is this gonna, is this gonna play well? Is this, is this good messaging? And not digging into the actual substance of, of those attacks. And they've been relentless.

You know, the, the most recent change of, uh, in curriculum, to say that enslaved people benefited from it, is just the, the, the most recent, instance. So yeah, I think that there, there's been a lot of, Uh, mainstream dropping the ball on, on what [00:17:00] exactly this means for, for Florida students from K, uh, to 12 and then into college as well.

Josh Olson: Yeah, and then what, what startled me, and there's a tendency to sort of go like, um, Yeah, it's a subject I'm an expert on. How come you're not talking about this? But, You know, last month when they announced that PragerU was going to be part of the curriculum, what really boggled me, um, you know, I'm not sitting here expecting the New York Times or anybody else to do really deep dives and tell these full stories, but how are you going to ignore this?

Because at one point, when you've got semi legitimate, at least historians on, on national TV defending their position that, uh, slavery benefited slaves. Um, those people are at least, and I really want to stress as wrong and as unhinged and as awful as they are, they are at least accredited historians.

Prager University is completely upfront about the fact that they're not an actual educational organization. had to come up with an answer to what is the opposite of education. It would sound like [00:18:00] this. Our mission is to arm people who are on our side with the intellectual ammunition they need to respond to these arguments and to make their arguments really, really simple so you don't have to be a genius to understand them.

That's not education. That's indoctrination. That's propaganda. I mean, they're just. Open about it. You know what I mean? Like at least the people who are going slavery benefited slaves are like, oh, I went somewhere. I've got accreditation. I'm, I'm a historian. Here's my argument. These people are openly saying we're not an educational facility, and now Florida has allowed them in.

Even before we get into how awful they are and how stupid and how terrible their ideology is, how does that happen?

John Knefel: Well, and on the indoctrination question, what's so interesting is that, uh, Dennis Prager, the namesake was at a moms for liberty conference in Philadelphia

Josh Olson: Mm-hmm.

John Knefel: month. And he said, it's a quote, very fair statement to say that PragerU indoctrinates kids. Um, he then tried to kind of downplay that on his radio show later on, and this is surprisingly, he was like, [00:19:00] uh, take it back.

It's, uh, this is reasonable stuff. so yeah, So, you know, he's, he's actually fairly open about that. And when you go to their website, you know, at the very bottom, uh, it says it's not an accredited university, not

Josh Olson: Yeah, they are, I will give them this. It's one of the few, one of the few places they're completely upfront.

They will tell you, we are not an accredited educational you. They don't pretend otherwise.

John Knefel: you know, branding aside, the, um, sort of tick tock of, of how this, got passed, got approved in Florida is a little bit murky, but, , PragerU CEO Marissa Strait recently told the Miami Herald. that Florida did not approach Prager U and instead they were brought together through her phrase was mutual friend.

we don't know exactly who those mutual friends are, but one potential clue is that Time Magazine just ran an interview with Strait that was published in the last And she said that the money for Prager U Kids [00:20:00] specifically came from a venture capitalist guy named David Blumberg, who is big in the Miami VC community.

And if you go to PragerU's, uh, 990s, their, disclosure forms, he is also listed as one of their directors. So that suggests, you know, he may have been one of the mutual friends, but what's important to know about, about Florida is that obviously you have DeSantis at the top.

And then running the state's Department of Education is a DeSantis acolyte named Manny Diaz, who previously was a Florida State Senator. And when he was in the Florida State Senate, he was a co sponsor of DeSantis Stop WOKE Act. So you have the guy in charge of the entire DeSantis And then the guy who's responsible for, um, the K to 12, policies, the K to 12 chancellors, a guy named Paul Burns. And he recently defended the [00:21:00] new, uh, enslavement benefited slaves curriculum. So, so across the top of the Florida decision makers, you have DeSantis and DeSantis Light, basically. Um, so it's not a huge surprise that PragerU was able to find fellow travelers or, you know, mutual friends to get this, this approval, and then now almost certainly to try to use this as a pry bar to get into other states.

Dave Anthony: Yeah, this is just gonna go into all the other states now that are, you know, Republican controlled. It's very obvious what they're doing the attack on schools have been going on forever and that's why In Florida, we don't see the same violence that we see in California.

Because in California, they'll do the opposite. They'll try to destroy our schools so they can get the funding for their private schools.

John Knefel: Yeah, whatever they, whatever they can't destroy, through defunding or through voucher systems , that defund by, uh, by moving the public money into, religious and private institutions. Whatever they can't destroy [00:22:00] that way, they want to capture with this propaganda. And, and a lot, a huge part of that is because they hate teachers unions, you know, we always have to remember that there's, there's a, a very clear labor, uh, element as well as the kind of, um, indoctrination project that, that work, hand in glove with one another.


Josh Olson: Yeah, and I want to get into what they're doing in California in a bit, because it comes very close to home, especially for, especially for Dave, who lives in the school district they're targeting, but we should probably, let's, let's give, you know, in case our listeners haven't, um, read your piece, they may not be familiar with PragerU, because in spite of being this massive well funded organization, PragerU PragerU kind of flies under the radar in big chunks of the country because I think it's due to primarily Dennis Prager himself, who built a career for decades now as the quote unquote reasonable Rush Limbaugh.

That's sort of how he started out in right wing radio. And he was a guy who would come to all the same conclusions Limbaugh would. All the same vile, horrible, inhuman, racist, misogynistic, homophobic conclusions. But [00:23:00] instead of just screaming about how things were better when he was a kid, he would claim to use some version of Talmudic logic to arrive there.

So there's this... This faux civility, and I've seen him in confrontations too on TV, and he's very good at when people confront him going, well, that's your opinion, and sure, you know, I could be wrong, da da da da. And um, that's not considered press worthy, and the fact that, you know, we get caught up in. The delivery system as opposed to what the actual message is. It's like, I'm sorry, I'm a, I'm a writer to me. It's like, the style is, know, how you deliver a thing, but the substance is exactly the same as Rush Limbaugh's.

Dave Anthony: their play. That's what they learned a long time ago. That's how Phyllis Schlafly defeated the ERA Amendment. This is what they know. This is what works. They know they say dumb stuff, it upsets us, and they look better.

Josh Olson: yeah, but some of their clips, I mean, this is stuff. These are videos that are made for kids and they're trying to teach them history. By the way, it's interesting. I had a friend, historian, uh, Danny Bessner, who was one of our guests on the show.

Um, and he went through the list of like everybody they have in the PragerU, uh, [00:24:00] roster who, who does history videos. Um, the same thing with Richard Wolff, who was on our show, and with the exception of one or two kind of egregious examples, people who are like really out there, and you know, Dinesh D'Souza and what have you, they hadn't heard of any of these people. Their, their alleged academics are just so below the radar, and so... You know, non extraordinary in terms of their achievement. It's like, these are, they're just giving the dregs to teach history. And then of course they're giving him insane stuff. Like here there's a, uh, they do Booker T. Washington, and there's two interesting things here. Uh, I actually pulled two clips from this one. The first one, this one was kind of ironic. I was looking at it today. I was like, Oh my God, I hadn't noticed this before, but it's hilarious in light of the whole slaves benefited from slavery line they're peddling right now.

PragerU clip: Was being a slave hard? It was terrible. I rarely got enough to eat and I worked all the time. Hard work is great when you can benefit from it, but I couldn't because I was a slave.

Josh Olson: That is, by the way, from a series about a couple of kids who go back in time to meet famous historical figures and get the real deal from them. [00:25:00] Um, but in terms of kind of the history that they're teaching, uh, a little bit later in the same conversation,

PragerU clip: Despite our nation not always living up to our declaration that all men are created equal, I am still so proud and thankful to be an American. Even though you were a slave? Exactly. Because I was, and not anymore. America was one of the first places on earth to outlaw slavery, and hundreds of thousands of men gave their lives in a war that resulted in my freedom.

So yes, I am proud and thankful. Oh yeah, when you put it that way, it totally makes sense.

Josh Olson: so just on a factual level, America wasn't the first to end slavery.

Factually they're

lying. Mexico, Britain, France, Denmark. I mean,

Dave Anthony: But they just get to say whatever they want. The only thing I would say... That makes me feel somewhat not as concerned as maybe I would have been 10 years ago is my kid Is 14 and he's getting all of his information from things like tick tock and tick tock is the kind of place that [00:26:00] really straightens this out?

But we're gonna have a lot of kids that that want to get into colleges And, uh, they're going to only be able to go to red states because they're going to say stuff that is just completely insane. They're locking themselves in. They're locking these kids in.

John Knefel: Yeah. What's, what's so offensive, you know, many offensive things about that clip, but, , the phrasing of, uh, that, that the fictional Booker T. Washington uses where he says , hundreds of thousands of men died in a war that resulted in my freedom. So, so you have the complete. Uh, erasing of enslaved people freeing themselves, which, of course, all of the, the recent scholarship says that to properly understand the decades leading up to the Civil War and then the war itself, you need to focus on the efforts of enslaved and formerly enslaved people to, uh, to organize and to fight for their, for their freedom.

So this completely erases that. And then it [00:27:00] also flattens the distinctions between the Union and the Confederacy. You know, the idea that the war resulted in his freedom is like, well, did anyone do anything to stop that? Was there one side who was fighting for that and one side fighting against it? It's this sort of idea of like racism without racists or like a confederacy without confederates or something like that. And what it, I think what it, you know, seeks to instill in kids. Is this really pernicious myth of inevitable progress, this myth that the United States is sort of innocent, and that you can't judge the past by the, the standards of the, the present or something like that, um, but what you were saying, Dave is, is I think absolutely correct is that you're going to have, uh, kids if you grow up on this and this is just like what you think about, The Civil War in the aftermath, you're going to have no shared vocabulary or concepts for anyone who actually [00:28:00] knows anything about history.

Dave Anthony: I think what they're trying to combat is, is a wave of understanding that's, that's coming into young people because they're online so much and they're seeing stuff and, this is one way that they can try to combat it.

Um, I think, I think in the long run it'll fail. It'll obviously do a lot of damage in the meantime. But, , there's, there's a wave that's happening and, and it, you can't control that wave. It's a society wave and man, they are really trying. But PragerU is, is the, it's the sort of thing when they're going to go in and learn a lesson, you have to tell your kids.

Here's what, here's what you're gonna learn. Here's the truth. Like, if my kid had one of those videos played for him, he would raise his hand and start asking questions. You know, that, like, that's, that's the thing you can do. I just, I'm, I'm, the cartoons we're playing, and I'm not as much scared about the cartoons as I am the more adult stuff that will be given to the middle school kids and [00:29:00] the, and the high school kids.

I think that's, A little more dangerous. The stuff, the, the fossil fuel stuff and other things of that nature.

Josh Olson: They do this series called, I think, Around the World, where they show you the lives of kids in other countries and the things they deal with and the things they deal with are always, uh, you know, horrible, horrible lefty ideas.

Um, in fact, we have just done a video, it's going to come around the same time as this, uh, with Wendell Potter. Um, on, uh, healthcare video they did where we just went, okay, fine, let's just for shits and giggles break down every single solitary lie they tell in this thing and discuss every rhetorical trick they use.

And that'll be coming out where we dismantle it line by line. But um, this one here it's uh, about a young girl who lives in Poland. Their introduction to what Poland is, is like, Well, it's a thousand years of history. And then Nazis came in and then Russians.

is like in 30 seconds.

And then Poland asserted its own independence and started using fossil fuels. And, uh, this young girl, hangs out with all her friends and then eventually starts finding out that, in fact, by going on the internet,[00:30:00] that, uh, climate change is bullshit and starts writing about it in her blog online.

uh, starts writing about it and starts losing her friends. her family then shores up her resolve by telling her stories of their own experiences.

PragerU clip: Ania is blogging all about fossil fuels and how energy poverty, not climate change, is the real threat. She is presenting evidence from her research in every blog post. But the response is not what she expected. Many readers are posting mean comments. At school, most of her friends barely talk to her anymore.

Even Magda, who can smell the fumes from the burning trash, continues to believe that Poland's coal ban is saving the Earth. After many arguments. They've stopped walking together. Losing friends has been hard for Anya, but her family is proud of her for telling the truth. Timon, Clara, and Grandfather Jakob are encouraging Anya by sharing their [00:31:00] own stories of perseverance.

Timon remembers having to meet people late at night in a freezing cellar to avoid the communist authorities. But that didn't stop him from sharing his ideas. Grandfather Jakub tells her about the Warsaw Uprising, when the city's Jews fought back against the Nazis. Jakub remembers helping smuggle food, blankets, and even ammunition to the Jewish resistance fighters through sewer tunnels.

Through her family's stories, Anya is realizing that fighting oppression is risky, and that it always takes courage.

Josh Olson: They are equating being a climate change denier with being a Polish Jew in Warsaw during the Warsaw uprising,

being murdered by Nazis.

John Knefel: and what's even

more offensive or or, you know, compounds the offensiveness is that they get They get the, the name of the event wrong. They're talking about the, they're [00:32:00] talking about the Warsaw ghetto uprising of 1943. The Warsaw uprising of 1944 was carried out by the Polish underground.

so not only is, is it, yeah, saying that, that embracing climate denialism is akin to engaging in one of the, the, you know, most important anti fascist actions in the history. of the 20th century, but also they get it wrong. It's, it's, it's unbelievable. Um, and again, this is, you know, proof that there, there's no, there's no actual history going on here.

There's no, uh, there's no attempt to, to even get basic facts right, um, even beyond the way that they, like, skew, uh, those facts when they, even when they misrepresent them.

Dave Anthony: And from a psychological perspective, they're, uh, they're going after healthy shame, right? So, when you say things that are completely off the wall, and everyone looks at you like you're weird, you have a healthy sense of shame, and you You, you, you reevaluate and you maybe start behaving differently and, [00:33:00] and, and trying to understand differently, but they're saying lean into that thing that alienates you from everybody else because that's what makes you a good person.

It's the exact opposite thing of what makes you a good person. They're literally saying here, be a monster, be a monster with all your friends.

John Knefel: The other side of that analogy is that, you know, her teacher and other and her students, uh, her fellow, you know, peers who are, who, who believe in, in climate change, um, they take on the role of the totalitarian in this, uh, this historical analogy, which is of course a favorite of, of conservatives, you know, from, from Jonah Goldberg's liberal fascism, sort of

Josh Olson: big business is the victim. Big

John Knefel: yeah, exactly.


Josh Olson: But Look, we, we, we could and we have done, scores of hours breaking down this stuff. But, but, I mean, I think we give folks who don't know a kind of a, a, a good enough overview. But, I mean, here's the thing. There's two things going on right now.

The, the PragerU's published, uh, an online petition for people who want... More PragerU and more American schools. [00:34:00] Um, and then we're also seeing things like the Daily Wire, Turning Point, and I just saw the other day that Jordan Peterson, all these people announcing that they're going to do something similar.

I think they're sniffing profit here.

Dave Anthony: Once I saw that, I was like, oh, he's seeing how much money is going into this. Do we know if Florida schools going to pay Prager University to put


videos in the schools?

John Knefel: Uh, that is a good question. As of right now, uh, that is not public. If, if, if anything like that is happening, I do know that Prager, um, just announced another fundraising drive and, um, you know, as you guys have talked about on, on this show, uh, many times, PragerU is just like swimming in money. It's it's obscene how much money they have from, you know, from from hydrofracking billionaires to the Bradley Foundation to all these other, right wing foundations and charities that that flood them with money.

So I think from from there. Uh, perspective. My, my guess is that, um, siphoning [00:35:00] any more public money might almost be small ball for them. I think that that, you know, their, their goal has been to, to, to break into these public schools, , is that great, American prospect story sort of highlighted, um, and they've, they've had a little bit of, of, Uh, success here and there, but I think for them, the goal, my suspicion is, is less to get like subscription payments from Florida and more to use this to confer legitimacy and then to say, look, we're not even charging you for this, for this, this great supplemental material.

Josh Olson: there's so much money to be made, uh, on, from having done this that you don't actually need to make any money doing it.

John Knefel: yeah, yeah,

Dave Anthony: right.

Josh Olson: will, this will increase subscript or, you know, the donors and so forth and so on. And then, you know, but to me the final question, and I know this isn't your bailiwick, but I think it, it, it allows us to sort of go into what's going on maybe in, uh, California.

Um, because, you know, the question that you're always running up against, and it's a sort of large philosophical one is, but [00:36:00] why, why does the right keep winning this stuff? Why does the left keep losing it? Um, I mean, I think to some extent the right, for all their mangling of history, actually thinks about history in a way that the left doesn't.

I saw a clip of Jerry Falwell, uh, taken from shortly before he died, where he was very cheerfully acknowledging that he would probably not live to see Roe v. Wade overturned. But it was gonna happen, and we'd been working on it for 50 years, and he was fine with that. He saw himself in a historical context.

And I don't see any kind of movement like that on the left to, to, you know, either create its own thing or counter this. But in terms of kind of like specific day to day kind of punching back, um, Dave, just give us a brief, like a brief breakdown of what's going on.

Dave lives in Glendale. Uh, he's got a kid in the high school system there and there's a, if not direct, there's at least a very clear secondary indirect connection between PragerU and what's going on there. Can you talk about that for a minute?

Dave Anthony: Yeah, we had a guy, we had a guy, Jordan Henry pop up during COVID on[00:37:00] the board meetings, uh, and he was clearly from not within the district, um, based on his language of not knowing how we talk. We say the name of the town like he didn't even know how we said that. So, uh, everyone's very suspicious of him.

He was very, uh, uh, first anti communism, anti CRT, all these, all these, you know, the things they're all getting upset about.

Josh Olson: none of which have anything to do with

Dave Anthony: I

Josh Olson: high schools

Dave Anthony: have nothing to do with American high schools that every single board meeting, the board would go, we don't respond to where they usually just let people talk and they don't respond.

But every time he would finish that ago, we don't teach that in our schools. That's not in our curriculum. That's not anywhere. Uh, so it just went on and on like that. Um, him, he started targeting specific teachers. Uh, and getting people riled up, it appeared this was his job because he was online so much posting, he was using different names, aliases, getting people riled up, um, and then it just kept snowballing.

And as of recently, you may have seen the, the fights in Glendale, [00:38:00] um, of which I was at the one everyone probably saw on the news. But now he has aligned with many other right wing groups, the Proud Boys and other assorted groups, um, mostly non parents. He is not a parent in our school district, uh, nor is the other woman who's mainly, uh, working with him.

And... So the the Glendale parents are a pretty shrewd group of people, you know, you have a it's it's it's I'd say upper middle class So you got a lot of lawyers and people who do investigative work? There's a lot of documentarians and things of that nature so they've been digging and they've been finding out all kinds of information through public records and funny enough recently someone was like, well, why don't we Uh, do a PRA, a public, uh, records act, uh, you, you, you file to see who is actually trying to find out the public records.

So, um, they went and they, and they, they, they found connections to, and then they've been piecing it together with, [00:39:00] uh, right wing groups all over the country. Right wing groups who are just, for some strange reason, asking for information, even though they're in, say, Michigan.

There's a, uh, a group called the, the Mackinac Center in Michigan. Um, they've been asking for just hundreds of PRAs from all over the country. Um, they're, they're Koch funded, they're anti union, they deny climate change. They're everything that PragerU is. And, of course, we have, uh, Jill, what's Jill's

Josh Olson: just some yeah Jill Simonian who's one of the heads of kids videos at PragerU is in she lives in Glendale Do we finally entertain that

Dave Anthony: We don't know where she lives,

uh, but just, she starts popping up at the board meetings also.

At every, every Glendale protest, uh, they are there, there's different PragerU people filming stuff that this is clearly the main school district that they have focused on.

And the reason is probably because we're in L. A. County and we're, we're not in [00:40:00] L. A. USD, but we are in L. A. County. And if they can get us. That's a big feather in the cap. Uh, and as of, as of a few days ago, someone pointed out that one of the parent groups who are associated with them just came out and said, look, if you give us a 13, 000 in taxes, we will go away.

So that's they're just spelling it out. They're just saying we want our money to be able to put into our church schools and we want to take it from the public schools. That's the goal. And so this group of people who are, I mean, there's just straight up Nazis in this group. And then there's people like Jordan Henry and other parent groups and they've all come together.

There's about 20 people and they're the ones doing this in a bunch of school districts around. Around California, they got Chino Hills to implement a very anti trans, anti, uh, gay, uh, things in their school district, and then the governor made them reverse it, but these people are going to board meetings in which they have no children, and they have no stakes, and there's a whole bunch of them, and then they're [00:41:00] taking pictures together, and everyone's like, that's a Nazi, that's a proud boy, and they're going to school districts they can drive to all over Southern California, and they're attacking, and this will be This will be the architecture for the rest of the country.

They're setting this up now. This is going to happen in all of your blue states. They're going to be doing this everywhere. They're setting it up and they're using PragerU as part of the voice to get it out there. And it's really crazy to be a part of. I didn't, never thought this would happen.

Josh Olson: And something that ties into what we were talking about at the beginning, John, is, I don't know how much of this you'd, you'd followed. While this was happening, while this protest, riot, what have you, was going on, we were watching video of people just like literally attacking people in the streets in Glendale. Social media was Packed with people identifying high profile members of the Proud Boys. Here's a video of this guy. Here's a picture of him next to it. This is this person. And all the coverage that was coming out of the LA Times and so forth, none of it mentioned it until the noise got so loud that about 24 hours later, the LA Times online piece on it amended.

Um, some [00:42:00] people have noted the possibility that there might be right wing blah, blah, blah at the end.

So it's like, it's not getting reported on,

Dave Anthony: it's not remotely a possibility. It's absolutely a fact. I know the names of a bunch of them and I've, and I knew them before the Glendale protest started. These are violent fascists and they have been street fighting for about four years and we know their names and we know where they were.

Some of them, we know where they live. Like they are very clear street fighters and the press is completely ignoring that aspect of it.

John Knefel: yeah, there's, there's a real institutional, , bias towards downplaying exactly that, that kind of stuff, even when it's playing the day, even when you have reliable researchers. Uh, you know, uh, piecing this together in real time and one of the things that's so, makes all of this even more, you know, ironic, I guess, with, Jill Simonian is that she was quoted in that Time Magazine piece Time Magazine asked her, who made PragerU Kids videos, who are the experts that they consulted, and she said, Oh, I'm not going to tell you.

[00:43:00] we live in a climate right now where people get harassed by the left. And so you have no right to know who's, who's doing this stuff. You know, it's like PragerU kids videos don't exactly have footnotes at the end. They don't like list their citations. So this is happening completely behind closed doors when, when these people do occasionally pop up, in mainstream, uh, coverage.

And they're asked a, even like a slightly difficult question. They act as though they're being targeted, , and, uh, singled out by the Deep State because somebody wants to know who made these videos. Um, and it's a total victim mentality. And it's, a signal that, that, uh, they are never going to be transparent or open even as they try to weaponize, uh, existing public, public disclosure laws.

And that's also something that, that, um, Chris Ruffo has, has really excelled at, unfortunately. And Ruffo, of course, is a, uh, another DeSantis, uh, [00:44:00] acolyte who is currently in the process of doing his best to destroy New College in Florida. Um, so, so a lot of these, these tactics I think are, are very familiar and a lot of the, the people, um, and, and personnel are, are very familiar, uh, across the country here.

Josh Olson: So I, I have a two headed question then, and then we'll, and then we'll go out. Cause you know, there is just that question of like, what, what can we as citizens... There's people who don't have kids in school districts who may not even live there who are coming to school meetings and doing this stuff.

Um, like Dave, I would love you to address that part of it. And then John, because you, you, you work in media and kind of study this stuff and write about it. Is there anything that you, we, anyone can do aside from just constantly harassing and arranging them to get the mainstream media to do a better job of telling the truth about what's actually happening here?

John Knefel: Yeah, I mean, I think that to take a quick crack at both of those on the on the local level, the thing that that, um, parents really can do that I think is the is most important is to [00:45:00] support local teachers unions because when when teachers are faced with, uh, being told to show PragerU kids, uh, content, if they push back, the thing that's going to protect them is is their union.

And, uh, and, and so I think that, defending, uh, teaches unions is, is, is crucial as is, uh, you know, running for school board, showing up at these local meetings, making sure that they're not completely hijacked by these astroturf right wing wackos who show up and scream about. you know, what books they want to have banned.

Um, and so I think that, operating at the local level, um, is, uh, is, is really crucial. And I think also when it comes to, to, uh, the, the mainstream media responses to this, increased union density in media is also, I think, part of the story. I think that you're, you know, you're, you're just more likely to get better coverage when, uh, when reporters have, have more protections [00:46:00] like that.

Thank you. Um, in, in general, it, it's hard to exert a lot of, a lot of pressure over these mainstream institutions though. Um, I think that, it has to be a constant drum beat. And, um, I think that when, uh, uh, an organization like PragerU or one of these far right groups, like Moms for Liberty, tries to launder itself.

Uh, as something it's not, you know, Prager U launders itself as this faux university. Um, Moms for Liberty launders themselves as these, you know, concerned parents. Obviously, none of those things are, are accurate, um, and it's pure propaganda. And I think that, that, trying to, to counter those narratives.

before they have a chance to set in is really the best way because once they get lodged in, you know, people are still using the term pro life to talk about anti abortion wackos. And, and so, so once, once this kind of, um, congeals. Uh, and, , a newspaper reporter is on a [00:47:00] deadline for, you know, 45 minutes from, uh, from now, you know, they got to turn around copy and I think that this is a case where a good offense in terms of fighting back against this right away is.

is much better than trying to dislodge it once it's, once it's truly like seeped in, which I think is also true for, um, for the best way to stop PragerU kids curriculum from, uh, or content rather from, from spreading even further.

Dave Anthony: I think it's a little bit more complicated than people sort of understand because when you're out there on the street and you're facing these people and you watch them move and their tactics they're very violent you can sense it, and when you watch them when you watch them at a protest try to circle around the back of protesters you know, know what you're getting into when you go to these things, understand that there's a way to go online and see if they are actually asking violent members from all over your state to come to this protest.

So know what you're [00:48:00] getting into and, and if you go there to protest and you're a very peaceful person, um, be aware of your surroundings and if you should even be there. I mean, very honestly, if you're outside the, if you're outside the room and there's a protest happening outside, it's a pretty dangerous place.

That was my experience. Um, there's also two types of people. There's, there's those of us who are going to confront them and there's those of us who don't want to confront them. Um, you really, you really have to know. How, how to handle yourself because it was, it was a really disturbing and scary thing to watch.

They're very tactically minded. When you saw that fight, that was them circling around the back of all the parents to try to attack them. And the Antifa people stopping them. So that's what that was. Um, As far as dealing with the Jordan Henrys, of which I think we're all going to get, in all of our school systems, Uh, I think you ha you have to do what the Glendale parents are doing and I think you have to do as much research into what they're doing.

If they start running for things like Jordan Henry is gonna run for school [00:49:00] board. He, he announced a week after I asked him if he was going to, and he said he was never going to, um, you know, they'll lie to your face and they'll do things. But you have to find out every single piece of information about that person.

You can, the, the amount of digging the parents have done. So when he tries to run. The amount of things we can throw at him and say why are you associated with Moms for Liberty, why are you so associated with a clearly anti Semitic group?

Like you can just, you can just have a lot of stuff to throw at them and keep them on their toes. When they go into these board meetings, if they are allowed to say what they want, And there is no, there is no response. There is no attack upon them as a, as a person and what they're doing. Then they will just get to run riot and keep their momentum.

But you have to put them on the defensive. You gotta get guys like Jordan Henry trying to explain why he's there. If you can get that out there, then maybe the LA Times will pick it up and be like, So why are you connected to these people? You can change the narrative because these people are all getting funded by somebody else.

And so [00:50:00] you can really change the narrative on them, but it's hard, but it's possible.

Josh Olson: Well, John, thanks for joining us, man. John Neville is, uh, at Media Matters. And of course, Dave and I are the co host of The Audit, where we just finished our 13 episode dissection of, uh, these monsters. You can catch us there and, um... That's about it, right?

John Knefel: thank you Thank you so much for having me guys.

David Sirota: That's it for today's show. As a reminder, our paid subscribers who get Lever Time Premium, you get access to this past Monday's bonus episode, our recent live chat with Yale Law Professor Sam Moyn about whether or not Congress has the power to regulate the Supreme Court.

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The Lever Time Podcast is a production of the Lever and the Lever Podcast Network. It's hosted by me, David Sirota. Our producer is Frank Capello with help from Lever producer, Jared Jacang Mayor.