One of the goals of The Forge is to help organizers keep up with the worlds of ideas and analysis, what’s happening in academia and other circles, and to make these learnings more accessible. To that end, in addition to publishing traditional, full-length book reviews, we are going to experiment with the best ways to bring the learnings from other sectors into our orbit. These include interviews (see Han), book excerpts (see Zucman and Saez's The Triumph of Injustice), and what we’re calling Reviews in Brief, short reviews designed to help you decide if you want to dig deeper. With this issue of The Forge, we include two such reviews, of Anne Nelson’s Shadow Network: Media, Money and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right and of Ian Haney López’s Merge Left: Fusing Race and Class, Winning Elections and Saving America.

- The Editors

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For organizers wanting to understand the history of the rise of the right-wing in the US since World War II, one place to start would be the trifecta of Jane Mayer’s Dark Money (2016), Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains (2017), and now Anne Nelson’s Shadow Network.  This unholy trinity of revealed right-wing roguery tends toward the organizational, which is helpful for organizers who think about the role of organizations, strategy, and resources in building power and movements. Mayer’s book tells the story of the Koch network and big money on the right, whereas MacLean focuses on the intellectual underpinnings of the extreme right, exposing along the way the breathtaking, frightful ambition of their project. I also recently listed to Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland (2008), which is powerful  — and more historical, with less of the organizational dimension of Nelson’s work  — in its own right, constituting its own trilogy with Before the Storm (2001) and The Invisible Bridge (2014), both also by Perlstein. Now comes Nelson’s Shadow Network, which builds on the others by illuminating additional components of the right’s infrastructure, including its media, religious organization, and coordinating functions.

I found Shadow Network useful for a few reasons.  First, it tells the story of one of the coordinating entities on the right that I hadn’t heard of — the Council for National Policy.  The CNP brought together the new rightwing political operatives of the 1960’s (in particular Richard Viguerie, Paul Weyrich, and Morton Blackwell) and right-wing evangelicals (e.g. Jerry Falwell).  The CNP is still active today and is known for its secrecy. One thing I am unable to ascertain is how relevant CNP is today versus, for example, the Koch network or other contemporary centers of right-wing activity. Shadow Network works hard to tie the whole narrative through the evolution of the CNP. Though the narrative coherence is appreciated, I have a gut instinct that it overplays the role of the CNP itself.

A second virtue of Shadow Network is that it examines the role of media in the right-wing infrastructure, especially less well-known entities like Salem Media Group (2,400 affiliated radio stations), American Family Radio (180 stations), and the Bott Radio Network (118 stations). Nelson rightly tells the story of how this right-wing media ecosystem has stepped into the void created by the collapse of traditional journalism; US newsroom employment has dropped 25% since 2008. With good reason, much of the attention from the left has focused on Fox, Sinclair Broadcasting, and since 2016, on Breitbart and the right’s online ecosystem.  Among the greatest challenges facing the left today is the dominance of these four legs of the table, and Shadow Network provides a useful introduction to one of those legs.  In terms of studying the history of the right’s media infrastructure, I’d also recommend Nicole Hemmer’s Messengers of the Right.

Nelson also draws our attention to other goings-on within the right, including the development of political data systems, the evolving fundraising operations, leadership development pipelines, and college campus work. Most significant is the throughline that draws out the import of the right’s religious infrastructure, particularly among US evangelicals. This isn’t a new story, and it’s told with more depth elsewhere. But in Shadow Network, Nelson tells a holistic story of the toxic cocktail of extremist political operatives and a right-wing evangelical base. This is the coalition that is winning our day. It is perhaps the greatest threat to our freedoms and a progressive future, and deserves our full attention.

 

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