Chris D'Angelo and Christopher Mathias
Thu, October 15, 2020, 3:53 PM MDT
On Monday, 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19, a maskless Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) appeared at a Senate hearing on Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination, where he spent the majority of his allotted 10 minutes “pontificating on the nature of constitutional government,” as The Daily Beast aptly described it.
Toward the end of his lecture, Lee produced a pocket-size U.S. Constitution and shook it as he emphasized his words.
“This is a thing that works, and works best when every one of us reads it, understands it,” Lee declared, pointing at the booklet. “And takes and honors an oath to uphold it and protect it and defend it.”
But Lee’s copy was no ordinary Constitution. It was an annotated version that’s published by a fringe Mormon group founded by the late conspiracy theorist W. Cleon Skousen and which has become the favorite of anti-government extremists and right-wing figures, including the men who led an armed seizure of an Oregon wildlife refuge over the conviction of two arsonist ranchers.
The booklet is annotated in such a way as to make it seem like the founders envisioned a solely Christian nation and a severely limited federal government. It includes both the Constitution’s original text and several religious ― at times out-of-context ― quotes from the Founding Fathers.
Western Values Project, a Montana-based public lands advocacy and watchdog group, alerted HuffPost to Lee’s far-right Constitution.
Skousen, whom The New York Times once called “the constitutional guru of the Tea Party movement,” peddled a distorted, Mormon-centric version of American history. He served as an FBI agent in the 1940s, and then briefly as Salt Lake City’s police chief before the mayor fired him, calling him a “master of half truths.” Skousen spent the later part of his life as a far-right, anti-communist activist preaching a theocratic interpretation of America’s founding documents.
He embraced a frenzy of conspiracy theories, contending that global bankers were working to create a totalitarian world government and that Russia stole its Sputnik satellite from the United States. His 1982 book “The Making of America” describes African-American children as “pickaninnies” and slave owners as the “worst victims” of the slavery system, as Salon reported in its 2009 expose on Skousen and his influence on commentator Glenn Beck.
“Skousen was a case study of the extreme-extreme right from the 1950s, as well as a con man,” Sean Wilentz, a history professor at Princeton University, told HuffPost in an email Wednesday morning.
“His history is trash; his politics a concoction of fantasy and paranoia,” Wilentz added. “He made a comeback around 2010 thanks to the hard right bunko artist Glenn Beck. That a United States senator should be peddling this lunacy with a straight face would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous.”
The Idaho-based National Center for Constitutional Studies, a right-wing think tank that Skousen founded in the 1960s, prints and distributes the pocket Constitution that Lee displayed during Monday’s hearing. There are more than 15 million NCCS Constitutions in circulation. Tens of thousands of them have been distributed in public schools throughout Florida, the Tampa Bay Times reported, and sales of the booklet soared in 2016 after Gold Star father Khizr Khan held up a pocket-sized Constitution ― not the NCCS edition ― at the Democratic National Convention and challenged President Donald Trump to read it.
Conn Carroll, a spokesman for Lee, told HuffPost that the senator carries many versions of the Constitution and “was not aware” that he’d brought the NCCS edition.https://www.yahoo.com/huffpost/mike-lee-pocket-constitution-215329288.html