The Anti-Defamation League and the Aspen Institute are making a show of ideological diversity in a new fellowship program for young civic leaders. Among those selected to the advisory committee is Johnnie Moore, a conservative evangelical who spent more than a decade working at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University and was on the Trump campaign’s evangelical advisory board.
The program is billed as an effort to create more “engaged and cohesive” communities in the United States. Participants will attend seminars and be exposed to diversity of thought and international travel. The advisory committee also includes Evan McMullin running mate Mindy Finn and former top Mitt Romney advisor Lanhee Chen.
Their decision to partner with ADL and Aspen is strange, given some of the Aspen Institute’s liberal work on issues like abortion, and the ADL’s involvement in the push to censor content online that is ensnaring conservatives.
Los Angeles-based Moore told The Daily Caller he didn’t know anything about the ADL’s role as a “trusted flagger” for Google and YouTube in their push to censor “controversial” online content, but acknowledged these kinds of efforts have had a chilling effect on conservatives.
“It’s definitely true that they have gotten it vastly wrong more than they have gotten it right,” he said, referring to tech censors. But he sees his role on the board as a chance to mitigate that kind of what he calls “low grade bigotry.”
The ADL has something of a reputation for reluctance in condemning Democrats who express anti-Semitic views, while blurring the lines between avowed white supremacists and right wingers, such as Mike Cernovich — exactly the kind of subtle bias Moore is referring to here. Cernovich was labeled by the ADL as “alt-light” and named to a list of people the group deems misogynistic and xenophobic. He is a conspiracy theorist and contributes to Alex Jones’ site Infowars, but has disavowed white supremacy, and hardly belongs on the same page as the likes of Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler. In contrast, the ADL declined to comment on a report from The Daily Caller News Foundation regarding Democratic Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s latest ties to anti-Semitism.
“While there are certainly things that the ADL does that I wouldn’t support, there are plenty of things the ADL does that I do support,” Moore told the Caller, citing their advocacy for persecuted Christians in the Middle East, their support of Israel and their opposition to Iran. He is on the ADL Task Force for Middle Eastern Minorities, and sits on its Los Angeles board.
“My real concern is the silos have become so impenetrable, that people are starting to sort of think, ‘If you disagree with me you must be a bad person,’” he said. “And so what I appreciate about this opportunity is the chance to bring together a diverse group of people that have different points of views on things put them all in the same room. It’s constructive.”
Moore is similarly unperturbed by the Aspen Institute’s work to promote abortion in the Third World, obviously a sensitive issue for conservative evangelicals. “I don’t have much of a litmus test for friendship,” he said, adding that he is optimistic he will be able to ensure the “right type” of conservative and Christian voices will be able to participate in the fellowship. “They really aim for this to be a diverse cohort.”
But perhaps his view is too optimistic. One line in the statement announcing the fellowship suggests Moore’s hope of influencing the selection of fellows may be more difficult than anticipated, and that his role is more of a play for political cover than a genuine effort for diversity of thought.
“Nominees that express hate or intolerance toward others based on particular ideas or identities will not be accepted,” the statement reads. Which ideas exactly? Will the Aspen Institute allow a nominee who opposes access to abortion? A hard liner on immigration? What about a Christian who is opposed to gay marriage?
Asked to clarify, a spokesman for the program, Stephen Cohen, demurred. “It’s less about differing views and more about the way they are expressed,” he told the Caller. He declined to elaborate.
“Why a sentence like that is added I can’t even begin to imagine,” journalist Lee Smith told the Caller. “The language is just crazy. So, what? They would otherwise be tempted to let people from actual hate groups in? But because of this sentence now they’re actually going to keep out the Nazis? Who are they talking about here?”
Moore says his invitation to the committee is evidence they are sincere. But Lee’s question is a good one at a time when the Southern Poverty Law Center feels comfortable lumping inthe Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council with neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.
Google has dealt with this kind of fallout in recent weeks, as an ethics board on artificial intelligence the company put together totally fell apart. Some employees were outraged by the inclusion of conservatives such as Heritage Foundation president Kay Cole James, and demanded removal from the board. Another member resigned amid the fallout, and Google ended up canceling the project.
“At the very best, the fellowship is just entirely tepid,” Lee said. “At the very worst it’s just going to lay down different markers for what is acceptable speech. Who are these people, who are getting money from some place, to say what’s acceptable and what’s not?”
Regarding the conservatives willing to participate in the program, he added: “It’s so easy to make people on the right happy. All you have to do is say, yeah sure, we’ll seat you at the club. Just make sure you wear a tie and jacket like we told you. Don’t wear the damn MAGA hat.”
Finn and Chen did not respond to requests for comment. For his part, Moore remains optimistic.
“People who are entirely consumed with politics sometimes have a hard time seeing past whatever is the preferred punditry of the moment, but our system in the United States demands that a diverse group of people can have rational discussions about important issues and often come to a point of compromise,” he said, adding: “It’s my mentality not to look for excuses not to work together with people, but to look for reasons to work together with people on areas of mutual concern.”