Religious Right pseudo-historian David Barton has been running around of late bragging about how he won defamation lawsuits against two Texans and a writer who had accused him of being a racist and a liar. However, it increasingly appears that Barton’s version of events is missing some details.
Some background: Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau ran unsuccessfully for seats on the Texas State Board of Education in 2010. Barton has influence with the board because several of its members are Religious Right activists who cite his work. Thus, he became an issue during the campaign.
In campaign materials, Jennings and Bell-Metereau implied that Barton was “known” for speaking to white supremacist organizations. Barton did speak to two white supremacist groups in the early 1990s, but he has always maintained that he didn’t know of their racist character. (This is old news, by the way. I wrote about Barton’s appearances before these groups in my 2000 book Close Encounters with the Religious Right.)
The two women settled the lawsuit by issuing Barton a formal apology. I was not privy to the case, but my guess is that this was the easier path for them. The average person doesn’t have the money to fight a lawsuit that can drag on for years. The attorneys’ fees alone can be staggering.
Barton also claims he sued a writer named W.S. Smith, who wrote an article calling Barton “an admitted liar.” Barton asserts that he won this suit too, even though Smith allegedly went into hiding.
But Warren Throckmorton, an evangelical college professor in Pennsylvania, has been doing some digging and is skeptical of Barton’s claim about the Smith suit. Throckmorton noted that court records in Parker County, Texas, show that Barton’s suit against Smith was dismissed by Barton in April of 2012.
“Where is the case? Who was involved? The Parker County records don’t support the narrative in Barton’s email…,” wrote Throckmorton.
What really happened? I don’t know – but given Barton’s tendency to stretch the truth, I’m not inclined to put much faith in his version of events. (Writer Hrafnkell Haraldsson has a good round-up of the whole mess here.)
It’s important to note two things: First, Barton’s suit against Jennings and Bell-Metereau concerned only their charge that he harbored racist views. It didn’t deal with his claims about U.S. history. Barton’s “history” has been widely debunked by numerous real historians. His most recent book, The Jefferson Lies, was withdrawn by the publisher after several historians pointed out its numerous errors.
Secondly, it is telling to note whom Barton chooses to sue. Several people have been writing about Barton critically for years. I’ve been doing it since 1993. Chris Rodda of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation regularly takes on Barton. And of course Throckmorton has been all over him. (Rodda has practically begged Barton to sue her.)
It seems to me that Barton doesn’t sue people who have the resources to fight back. Many people had raised the issue of the white supremacist groups in the past. Barton did nothing about that. Instead, he targeted two women running for public office because they were easy pickings.
There’s a term for people who do things like that: bully.
P.S. Kyle Mantyla at People For the American Way’s “Right Wing Watch” reported on Wednesday that Barton recently gave speech during which he claimed that he had played on a record-setting basketball team at Oral Roberts University in the early 1970s. Mantyla examined the team rosters for 1971-73, the years the records were set. Barton’s name does not appear. Throckmorton then contacted Oral Roberts University directly. The school’s public relations office reported, “After checking with the Athletic Office, there is no record of a David Barton ever playing basketball for ORU.” Feel free to draw your own conclusions from this.