Rules for Right-Wing Radicals
Rules for Anti-Radicals is a detailed and useful guide to parts of organizing that the right side of the aisle needs to be using a lot more.
Rules for Anti-Radicals: A Practical Handbook for Defeating Leftism, by F. Paul Valone, (Bacchus USA Publications: March 2022), 383 pages.
One organizing problem Righties have is that our institutional knowledge isn’t shared. Our major conferences tend to be more about saying how right we are rather than sharing effective methods, and our most effective organizers are siloed. The strongest grassroots groups we have are in the pro-life and gun-rights movements, and those activists don’t talk to each other. Most of our organizers don’t write about their experiences, and the books we do produce too often prefer polemic to procedure.
Despite his background as a state legislator, H.L. Richardson’s classic Confrontational Politics emphasizes attitude and angle-of-approach more than nuts-and-bolts details. The 2009 history Home School Heroes: The Struggle and Triumph of Home Schooling in America, by Christopher Klicka and Josh Harris, is quite an interesting book, but its authors’ tendency to ascribe all credit for key moments to God skates over the mechanics of how exactly God’s mortal agents worked for His will. Any number of books by pugnacious professional conservatives who make a living spreading their ideas through words emphasize the importance of…well, pugnacity and spreading one’s ideas through words.
Which means we should take note when somebody tries a different approach. Case in point: the recently released Rules for Anti-Radicals, by F. Paul Valone, founder of Gun Rights North Carolina, a no-compromise grassroots state-level rights group focused on legislation. (Disclosure: A former North Carolina resident, I was once a member of GRNC and found its newsletter useful; this is the extent of my experience with Valone, with whom I have had neither personal nor professional interaction.) A departure from most books from people on the right side of the aisle, it offers not just a rant on how terrible Lefties are, but practical advice on how to achieve political goals based on things Valone and his organization have actually done. It’s detailed, thorough, and organized, which one would expect considering that Valone spent a couple of decades as a commercial airline pilot, and he’s frank about his desire for his book to become The Organizing Manual for the right-of-center.
The book has some notable flaws that should be discussed up front. Some are familiar weak spots, particularly among naturally pugnacious Righties of Valone’s generation: an overemphasis on Saul Alinsky; cracks about leftists being the real fascists; a view of leftism as a top-down hierarchy with powerful puppet-masters; a historical myopia on the history of leftist movements, in which American leftism began in the 1960s; disdain for opponents leading to credulousness (notably, citing an obvious internet forgery as an example of an actual antifa text). Other flaws come hand-in-hand with the book’s strengths. Paul Valone is a guy who has achieved successes with an uncompromising grassroots group focused on making a difference via the legislative process. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he feels the solution to [your columnist waves his hands at everything] is establishing lots and lots of no-compromise grassroots groups focused on making a difference via the legislative process. The result is that the book is strongest on that front and weaker on activism outside that process.
Valone divides activist action into economic, political, legal, and non-legislative. He is comfortably at home in the political and legal: passing or scuttling laws, getting politicians elected or defeated, and issuing stern legal letters or filing lawsuits. These are the best and most thorough sections of the book. He is less comfortable and less detailed on corporate campaigns, boycotts, and the like, but still much better than the stuff Righties usually get. Valone’s analysis of what makes a target susceptible to a boycott (“Will your supporters boycott the target? Does the target make money from your supporters? Is the target vulnerable to negative media? Will other groups pile on? Is the company otherwise vulnerable?”) is less sophisticated than the methods used by leftist groups to consider such things, but it’s likely to be eye-opening to people who haven’t considered what, other than a desire for revenge, actually goes into making boycotts possible.
On non-legislative action, Valone is weaker, in part because—like a lot of people on the right—he finds the tactics and strategies leftists use to be viscerally repulsive or pointless. (The nastiest tactic Valone recommends is doxxing, which he used successfully against journalists who published a database of CCW holders.) A memorable flowchart traces the decision-making process: Is a situation suited for economic pressure? or legal pressure? or political pressure? And if all answers are no, the path leads to a cartoon figure of a man with a giant screw protruding from his chest. Leftists are much better at this, both in terms of identifying opportunities for pressure and in finding alternatives if one target proves too challenging.
Valone is on stronger footing when he provides words of caution in other areas. He is quite down on some things pugnacious grassroots conservatives tend to very much like the idea of, such as bold civil disobedience (which he notes invites risk, particularly in hostile political environments: “wouldn’t you rather not be a felon?”). He is also, interestingly, skeptical of rallies. When Virginia gun-rights activists held a large rally in 2019, allies across the nation found it tremendously heartening. Not Valone. Asked to hold a similar rally in North Carolina, he replied:
If I were in Virginia, I’d organize a rally too. Do you know why? Because they already lost the election. They don’t have any recourse. We, on the other hand, have elections coming up in a few months, and we are suffering all the court-ordered redistricting and out-of-state money here that caused them to lose. So I can either spend all of our time, money, and sweat holding a rally, after which nothing will have changed, or I can expend it winning the 2020 elections. I plan to do the latter.
While Valone is not averse to lawsuits, he also offers cautions on the subject of legal action. The last few generations of Americans, raised on heroic civil-rights-movement tales, tend to think about litigation being used to change policy, but doing so requires specialized knowledge, is expensive, and the outcome is uncertain. Also, it’s a lot of work for you to make sure your attorneys and any co-litigants are on the same page as you. With Valone’s painful experiences in litigation have also come gains, so he shares valuable insight on hiring attorneys, recruiting plaintiffs, overseeing the process, and using the media.
Valone hammers home repeatedly something he does have in common with leftist organizers: the cold fact that you don’t win by educating people; you win by building power. And on the legislative front, the way you build power is to provide or deny the things politicians crave: votes, money, influence, and public accolades. Mere personal pugnacity does not suffice; you must show politicians that you are serious, that you represent a sizable constituency, that you can hurt them come election time, and that you are utterly persistent.
As Valone puts it, “you will identify three simple things: 1. The problem; 2. Who has the capability to solve the problem; and 3. What will motivate the person (or persons) to solve it.” To do so, you must “embrace conflict,” “avoid compromise,” and “never compromise principle.” Compromise, in Valone’s view, not only undercuts your position, but provides an opening for corruption, which is not necessarily pure graft so much as serving one’s own self-interest over that of the people whom activists and ostensibly allied politicians are supposed to be serving.
In terms of political action, Valone prefers gaining power indirectly over running for office as an activist candidate, on the grounds that “it’s generally a whole lot more fun beating up politicians than getting beaten up.” Educating politicians doesn’t work—and if they’re opposed to you, efforts to change their mind by educating them will just teach them how to hurt you better. You need to pressure them, not teach them; if they do what you want, it doesn’t matter what they think. The name of the game is power, not access, and Valone is frank about the challenges involved, especially when you’re a grassroots organizer doing it with all-too-human volunteers.
In terms of organizational structure, Valone recommends a 501(c)(4) and a PAC. He provides helpful information on their requirements and uses, including how to prioritize the work. Unquestionably, the best parts of the book deal with herding legislators and getting them to pass or defeat the laws you’d like. This requires knowing well how the legislative process actually works, and Valone provides a concise but detailed overview, including the importance of spotting local idiosyncrasies and having multiple people to read hostile bills and check referenced statutes in order to make sure nothing slips by you—and then using the issues you find one at a time, to make sure legislation you oppose faces a new obstacle every step of its way to passage, a technique Valone calls “layered defense.”
On the flip side, he offers practical advice on drafting bills and finding sponsors (you want somebody in the majority who’s ideologically solid, not a loose cannon with respect to his or her party, electorally secure with good credibility, and on the committee that will hear your bill) and caring for the sponsor, to maintain and build that relationship, as well as how to make sure the bill actually makes it through—and how to deal with the various ways politicians and other players react to the pressure you put on.
Rules for Anti-Radicals is not the be-all and end-all of right-of-center grassroots organizing books that Valone wants it to be, but it is a detailed and useful guide to parts of organizing that the right side of the aisle needs to be using a lot more. It’s also a fun look at one man’s experience organizing on the right. And we need more of those! If you know of any good conservative activist memoirs, the more war stories the better, drop me a line at email@example.com. I’d love to review some.
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And if you happen to be an effective conservative activist who has had a long career and a lot of insights and war stories that should be passed on, I’ll tell you what Robert Caro, through an intermediary, told the aged brother of Lyndon Johnson’s long-dead moneyman Herman Brown in order to secure an interview: “No matter how many buildings he puts Herman Brown’s name on, in a few years no one is going to know who Herman Brown was if he’s not in a book.”
So if that’s you, go write one.