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The Decay at the Claremont Institute Continues

The Trumpy think tank’s right hand acts as though it doesn’t know what its far-right hand is doing.
April 21, 2022
The Decay at the Claremont Institute Continues
(Composite by Hannah Yoest / Photos: GettyImages)

When the Claremont Institute, America’s Trumpiest think tank, is in the news nowadays, it is mostly because of John Eastman, the institute senior fellow who wrote the notorious “coup memos” for Donald Trump. Last month, a federal judge ruled that Eastman and Trump were likely involved in a criminal conspiracy together. The ruling arose from a civil suit concerning Eastman’s claim that some of his documents should not be disclosed to the House Jan. 6th Committee, and the judge only opined on possible criminal behavior because it factored into the narrow decision regarding Eastman’s claims. Still, the ruling is an important reminder of what was at stake with Eastman’s work for Trump: nothing less than a concerted effort to overturn a democratic election and thwart the peaceful transfer of power, which, had it succeeded, would have brought on a major constitutional crisis. The judge ordered Eastman to hand over to the committee 101 documents he had been withholding, and Eastman has grumblingly said he will comply—although he now wants to withhold another big batch.

The Eastman saga has been the most prominent Claremont Institute-related drama in recent weeks, but it hasn’t been the only one. The institute’s descent into Trumpian trolling, conspiracism, and fringe extremism has continued to have bizarre ripple effects. It is worth taking a look at some episodes of the last few weeks and what they reveal about the institute’s character—and how Claremont’s leaders seem to understand that character themselves.

Last month, the American Mind, the Claremont Institute’s web magazine, published an article called “The Decline is Real.” Brimming with male sexual anxiety, the piece discusses some research suggesting that testosterone levels and sperm levels are falling in Western populations. It edges up close to replacement theory. And it gripes about “clownworld”—“Soy boys. Simps. Plant-based lifestyles. Polyamory. Incels. Furries. Et cetera… honk honk!”—and suggests that the “dissident right” is “unique[ly]” well suited to making men manly.

But the problem with the piece is less its content than the author’s background. The American Mind has made something of a habit of publishing pseudonymous writers: “Peachy Keenan,” “The Huntsman,” “Horatius,” “Rebecca,” “Privata,” and others. So it is, too, with the article worried about Western man’s sperm count—but its pseudonymous author, “Raw Egg Nationalist,” stands apart for having recently published a book with a Nazi publishing house. As in: a publishing house that is infatuated with Adolf Hitler.

I wish I were joking or exaggerating. What Raw Egg Nationalist’s American Mind byline doesn’t tell you is that his Raw Egg Nationalism Cookbook is published by Antelope Hill Publishing. Antelope Hill is a small publishing house that translates and publishes books like A New Nobility of Blood and Soil, by Richard Walther Darré, described in this way on the Antelope Hill site:

Richard Walther Darré, an Obergruppenführer in the SS, was the leading “Blood and Soil” ideologist of Germany and served his people as Reich Minister of Food and Agriculture. This book, A New Nobility of Blood and Soil, was massively popular in the Third Reich and led to a strengthening of the agrarian and agriculturalist movements. Highly influential on Hitler, the principles in this book are foundational to the National Socialist worldview.

Antelope Hill, we learn, is proud to present this new translation of Darré’s book, which is the first English-language edition. A Daily Beast article from January referred to Antelope Hill as “openly fascist”; a blog that tracks reactionary racism labeled it “a white supremacist publishing company”; and Amazon has faced calls to stop selling its products. The Antelope Hill Twitter and Instagram feeds contain promotional material that playfully celebrates “uncle Hitler.” To celebrate Hitler’s birthday yesterday, Antelope Hill offered a discount on all its books, and an even bigger discount on a collection of Hitler’s speeches, with the cutesy discount code “birthday_boy”:

The Claremont Institute seems to have no qualms publishing one of Antelope Hill’s main authors.

And it is impossible to believe that the publishers of the American Mind do not understand who Raw Egg Nationalist is and what he stands for.

For one thing, he appeared as recently as November 11 of last year on Jack Murphy’s podcast. Murphy was a Lincoln Fellow at the institute last summer, and numerous prominent Claremont folks have come on his podcast since its inception in 2018. For example, Matthew Peterson, the founder and original editor of the American Mind, was Murphy’s guest a couple of weeks before Raw Egg Nationalist, and Glenn Ellmers, a Claremont senior fellow, was on the show a few days before that.

Other Claremonters Murphy has hosted include Ryan Williams (president of the Claremont Institute); Thomas G. West (senior fellow and a member of Claremont’s board of directors); Spencer Klavan (an editor at the Claremont Review of Books and features editor at the American Mind); Jack Posobiec (2019 Lincoln Fellow); Michael Anton (Claremont senior fellow); Christopher Caldwell (Claremont senior fellow); Dave Reaboi (Claremont fellow and 2012 Lincoln Fellow); and Arthur Milikh (executive director of Claremont’s Center for the American Way of Life). Several of Murphy’s other guests have been alumni of Claremont’s fellowship programs, including Breitbart writer Allum Bokhari, anti-critical-race-theory activist Christopher Rufo, and Trumpist conspiracy theorist Darren Beattie.

In short: Jack Murphy is a Claremont intimate, and his hosting Raw Egg Nationalist is another indication that the latter is a known quantity to the Claremont crowd.

Murphy’s interview with Raw Egg Nationalist is, unsurprisingly, offensive. The two men share an interest in bodybuilding as a way of life; during a discussion of the relationship between mind, body, and aesthetics, Murphy asks Raw Egg Nationalist to explain how he understands the relationship between physiognomy and politics. Raw Egg Nationalist says:

I think that it’s difficult . . . today not to see just how closely linked together nutrition and lifestyle and political orientation are. . . . Bring up all of the mug shots from the “mostly peaceful protests” of last summer and you’ll see that all of these people look the same. I mean, they are hideously ugly, malformed people.

Raw Egg Nationalist concludes that the left has abandoned all concerns with health and “is for a kind of dysgenic existence.” It follows, then, that, “the right, or some people on the right and some traditionalists, just have to be for a healthy physical lifestyle. I think it’s that simple.”

Murphy agrees: “It really is. And I was out on the streets during all the riots in Washington, D.C., and I’ve seen the protesters right up front.”

The exchange, which takes place ten minutes into their conversation, offers a crystal-clear glimpse of this Claremont writer’s character, in case his choice of publishing house isn’t already enough of a tell.

It’s worth saying more about Jack Murphy.

Murphy is a prominent influencer in the “Manosphere” and the founder of a secretive manliness club called the Liminal Order. “Jack Murphy” is also a pseudonym. His real name is reportedly John Goldman, a fact that became common knowledge in December of last year following salacious revelations about his past.

In 2018, Murphy wrote a blog post about sending his girlfriend to have sex with a stranger from Tinder. This became known as Murphy’s “cuck article,” and it caused a stir on the right—both the family-values right and the cult-of-masculinity right. It further turned out that Murphy had participated in amateur pornography, and that he had been placed on administrative leave from a job with Washington, D.C.’s public charter schools for wildly misogynist and racist screeds he had posted online.

The revelations about Murphy/Goldman received coverage last December from conservative journalists like Rod Dreher at the American Conservative, Mary Harrington at UnHerd, and Megan Fox at PJ Media. (This scrutiny came after an earlier period of wagon-circling: Two months earlier, one Twitter user was blocked by several prominent Catholic integralists after he criticized their acceptance of Murphy.)

But a far more tragic story was unfolding right around the time of Murphy’s scandals: On December 27, a deadly shooting spree in Denver left six people dead, including the alleged shooter, Lyndon McLeod.

Before the tragedy, McLeod was a far-right novelist who wrote under the pseudonym Roman McClay. The Denver shootings followed the plot of his novels, and two of his victims were mentioned by name in the books.

McLeod was also a fan of Jack Murphy’s, and he even appears to have been a member of Murphy’s club, the Liminal Order.

What’s more, Murphy returned the future mass shooter’s admiration. In an online post from February 2020, he deemed Roman McClay’s work “an epic three volume masterpiece.” (He praised the work of reactionary writers Bronze Age Pervert and Curtis Yarvin in the same context.) After the Denver shootings, even Anthony Dream Johnson, the self-professed “President of the Manosphere,” was willing to denounce Jack Murphy. But Claremont stayed mum.

To summarize: One of Claremont’s future Lincoln fellows had an unconventional sexual relationship with his girlfriend that he wrote about publicly, created pornography, broadcast truly vile racist and misogynist views, and celebrated the violent fictions of a person who would later use them as a roadmap for conducting his own mass shooting.

You will recall Murphy’s Claremont-heavy roster of podcast guests before his scandals in December. The description for one of those episodes contains this intriguing line: “Ryan Williams, The President of the Claremont Institute, explains to Jack Murphy why they engaged with Bronze Age Pervert, Curtis Yarvin, and Jack Posobiec.”

The interview took place in March 2020, the month after Murphy praised McLeod’s violent novels. Much of it is dedicated to standard-fare Claremont grievance-mongering against identity politics, multiculturalism, and the left. But almost an hour into the conversation, Murphy does ask Williams directly why Claremont decided to engage with “underground new media figures” like Bronze Age Pervert (BAP), Yarvin, Posobiec, and himself.

First, he praises Williams for Claremont’s engagements with “your grassroots population,” mentioning Michael Anton’s review of Bronze Age Pervert’s book in the Claremont Review of Books and a BAP symposium at the American Mind. “This was, like, a big signal to me that you guys understood the landscape,” Murphy says. “So can you tell me how the Bronze Age Pervert connection came to be?… How did it all work out? Would you do it again?”

Williams is prepared for this. Beginning cautiously, he says that he and others had noticed BAP’s “weird little book” floating around among young folks on the right and wanted to talk to Claremont’s “very boomer” audience about it as a youth phenomenon. He also wanted to communicate the way “some of his older peers and fellow travelers at Claremont talked about politics and took seriously this energy amongst the young on the right that was sort of up for grabs.”

Williams acknowledges the dangers involved in making these overtures, and says that Claremont traditionally stands for equal rights and believes reactionary politics is a “dead end.” He appears to suggest that his goal in engaging BAP’s audience was to show them an alternative approach and outlook.

But soon Williams starts to hedge. Sounding increasingly sympathetic to what Murphy calls the “grassroots,” he praises BAP’s book as a piece of philosophical art, and admits that they published Anton’s piece in part “to stir things up.” He concedes that Claremont had something to prove: that “we weren’t just fusionist Reagan Republicans,” but are instead “open to new ideas” and “not . . . afraid of the arguments that are gaining some traction on the right.”

Then Williams takes a more evangelical turn. He talks about how important it is to bring eclectic and heterodox thinkers like Yarvin to new readers in order to “continue the conversation.” He and Murphy gloat about how these thinkers have influence in Trump’s White House. Williams argues that the very online landscape of the New Right is an “increasingly huge thing” that is quickly replacing and delegitimizing the old media. After windily defending the right-wing conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec as “nothing but a gentleman and respectful, an engaged discussant in our seminar and a family man,” Williams insists on the importance of engaging seriously with “this new media landscape” and “this growing cohort of people with huge influence.”

He resumes a cautious stance at the end of the episode. In case the audience has forgotten, Williams reminds listeners that Claremont hopes to be the teacher and fearless influencer in its relationship with Murphy’s “grassroots,” not the one being taught and influenced.

Murphy, though, heard things differently: “I really commend you guys for . . . the direction you’re taking the organization. I respect it. It got my attention. If the Bronze Age Pervert thing was meant to be a bat-signal to the young and new right and the internet right—well, we heard it, we saw it, here we are.”

Williams chuckles at the mention of the bat-signal and doesn’t object to the characterization of Claremont as inviting Murphy and his ilk into its domain. He thanks Murphy for his public-spiritedness, saying that “America is a better place because of what you do, so keep doing what you do.” The Claremont Institute would accept Murphy as a Lincoln Fellow the following year.

Maybe Raw Egg Nationalist will make the cut for 2022.

This trip through the Claremont underworld ends with a return to a more familiar and respectable side of the institute: a March 17, 2022 episode of the Power Line podcast hosted by Steven Hayward and featuring guests Charles Kesler and John Yoo. Titled “The Claremont Question,” the episode raises explicit questions about the coherence of the organization and the relationships among its various constituents.

Hayward is a resident senior scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley and a graduate of Claremont Graduate School. Kesler is a professor at Claremont McKenna College and the founding editor of Claremont’s premier publication, the Claremont Review of Books. Yoo, a professor at Berkeley Law School, is best known for authoring the Bush administration’s notorious “torture memos,” which made him a figure of perennial controversy. It is a sign of strange times that he is among the least polarizing figures in Claremont’s orbit today.

The title of the episode suggests that the three longtime Claremont associates might address the institute’s efforts to accommodate Murphy’s “grassroots.” But while Ryan Williams showed a measure of confidence and security in responding to Murphy’s questions, this conversation went differently. The 44-minute Power Line talk alternates between chummy banter, outrage at the left, and the occasional nod to non-MAGA realities. It is also full of awkward yuks and guffaws. Hayward, Kesler, and Yoo may represent the Claremont Institute’s old guard—the conservative intellectuals who like to have deep conversations about statesmanship and the Founders and the dangers of progressivism—but they don’t have any of the confidence one might expect from them. A mood of uneasiness prevails. The three men often fall into anxious laughter at one another’s bad jokes.

“My goodness!” Hayward begins. “The Claremont Institute has everybody’s attention these days, and lots of enemies on the left and on the right. . . . I’m not quite sure where to begin!”

After reviewing the facts, he asks Kesler to explain the sources of controversy at Claremont.

From the perspective of, say, Bronze Age Pervert and company, Kesler makes a handful of “normie” admissions: His colleague John Eastman’s plan for Vice President Mike Pence was “impossible” and “not credible”; Jan. 6th was “a terrible stain” on the Trump presidency; Trump should probably cede the stage to a younger Republican to draw a better contrast with Biden. But before Kesler gets to all that, he acknowledges a simpler truth: Trump was a boon for Claremont. Everything is going great at the institute, and some of their good fortune has resulted directly from their public pro-Trump stance. Subscriptions to the CRB are at an all time high and growing, he says. They have real momentum.

But given everything that has been going on at Claremont, the discussion is awfully evasive. For example, while the three men agree on the most salient part of the Eastman debacle—that there was no real dispute over any state electors—they do not grapple with the implications of that admission. Instead, they act as though Eastman’s various legal notions about Pence’s decision-making authority on Jan. 6th are still worth taking seriously. The truth is closer to this: Eastman can interpret the law however he pleases, but because there was no serious dispute about the electors, his ideas are, at best, perfectly irrelevant to the reality of the situation.

Yoo says that Eastman “got the facts wrong but the law right.” Imagine if someone understood the laws governing murder but merely “got the facts wrong” in a given case: it would be the definition of a miscarriage of justice. And when Hayward, Kesler, and Yoo concede that there were no disputed electors, they unwittingly imply that Eastman’s perspective runs closer to delusional fabrication than to serious legal commentary, let alone reasonable advice to a sitting VP with a crucial role to play in the peaceful transfer of power.

Rather than grapple with that truth, the group praises Kesler for expounding the Eastman controversy in the pages of the Claremont Review of Books. They revel in the seriousness of a followup exchange between Eastman and critic Joseph Bessette in the CRB. They take credit for presenting “both sides” of the issue “utterly without snark or invective on either side.” And Kesler prides himself on allowing the magazine not to take a stance on such “very complicated” issues.

To be clear, Bessette’s critique of Eastman’s position is excellent. The problem is that the CRB’s “both-sides” approach launders Eastman’s arguments and gives them false legitimacy.

And what the CRB did for Eastman, Hayward’s Power Line conversation does for Claremont as a whole. The three members of the old guard are reticent about Eastman, their “friend and colleague,” throughout the episode. This reflects a larger unwillingness to attempt a substantive reckoning with Claremont’s recent past.

That past includes plenty of cynical publication decisions—among them, Anton’s solicitous review of Bronze Age Pervert’s book; institutional decisions to grant fellowships to conspiracy theorists and extremist influencers; an eagerness to publish authors too timid to put their real names on their articles, including an author who sends his writing to a Nazi publishing house. Does Charles Kesler think these decisions represent a brave stance on the part of the institute?

Conservatives are very good at calling out instances of excess zeal and censoriousness on the left. But the decline at the Claremont Institute demonstrates inverse dangers: namely, the cratering of accountability and good judgment. The Claremont old guard acts as though the rest of what’s happening at the institute isn’t their concern, and with a few exceptions the intellectuals of the New Right operate the same way with respect to the Claremont Institute: as though there are no right-wing viewpoints or associations that can be unequivocally condemned, no liberal norms that don’t deserve challenging, no fringe that’s too fringey for them.

In its outreach to the Manosphere, in its welcoming of fascist-curious and bigoted Trumpy writers, not to mention its months of support for lies about the last presidential election, the institute is allying itself with some of the most dangerous tendencies in politics.

The Power Line episode ends on a surreal but fitting note:

Steven Hayward (abruptly): Well, we never really did get to the contents of the issue, but that would take us four or five hours. Thank you, Charles; thank you, John.

John Yoo (genuinely surprised): That’s it? It’s over?

Hayward (cheerfully): I think we’ve taxed our listeners long enough with our quips and jests.

Charles Kesler (deadpan): Do you mean to ask . . . is that all there is?

(guffaws all around)

That’s it: no reckoning, no grappling, no calling to account. Instead, we are left with a throwaway reference to a wry little song by Peggy Lee. But “Is That All There Is?” also happens to capture the essence of intellectual life at Claremont today: the carnival atmosphere, the old boys’ club, and the decay.

Laura K. Field

Laura K. Field is a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center and a scholar in residence at American University. Twitter: @lkatfield.