June 17, 2024

Education For Live

Masters Of Education

Page, Arizona, Ex Teacher Brant Williams Hawks White Nationalist Homeschooling Online

15 min read

The School of the West, a recently launched online “educational resource for homeschooling parents,” offers a smattering of materials—some free, some only for paying members—to help teach kids standard subjects like math, science, and language arts. But its key selling point is a unique and deeply disturbing field of study that the site has dubbed “White Wellbeing.”

A write-up on the contents of an upcoming three-month live-streamed white wellbeing course, advertised for students ages four and older, explains that it will help children “understand the gift of being born a member of Westernkind and the qualities that separate us from the other races.” In case it wasn’t clear, the write-up later clarifies that “the White race is known as Westernkind.” It also promises to teach them how to spot and respond to the “anti-white propaganda” that supposedly suffuses modern life, why white people are the only true citizens of Western nations, and how “feminism destroys the family unit,” the supposed backbone of all Westernkind, “thus weakening our societies.”

This blatant white-nationalist ideology is infused into some of the site’s lessons on conventional subjects, as well. Its history materials, for example, falsely teach that the notion European colonization led to the spread of new diseases that decimated indigenous populations is not established historical fact, but an anti-white myth. The School also links to the Institute for Historical Review, as a “reliable online source for the study of history.” The IHR notoriously publishes materials that push for Holocaust denial and antisemitic readings of history, using the language and formatting of conventional academia, but none of its rigor. And the School’s life sciences materials are just a series of seven videos and attendant worksheets on the supposed science of human racial differences, which deliver a series of thoroughly debunked pseudoscientific arguments as if they were hard facts.

When you develop trust with your students, they’ll believe pretty much everything you say.

Brant Williams

As if to underscore its focus on white-nationalist indoctrination, one video on the site even tells children that, in the face of a supposedly virulently anti-white culture, “it’s important to do your schoolwork, but it’s even more important to feel good about yourself and your own people.”

Oh, and an ad for the site floating around the dark corners of the internet opens with pictures of all-white communities and schools in the mid-20th century, then juxtaposes them with images of diverse classrooms and clips of Black kids hitting white kids, among other racial fear-baiting imagery. Towards the end of the ad, text pops up that reads “Enough. Reclaim Your Destiny.” It then shows a copy of White Fragility—the pop explainer on systemic and often unconscious racism—burning over coals.

It is easy to dismiss the site as a gross but ultimately marginal aberration. After all, it appears to be one guy’s pet project: On the site, he goes by Brant Danger, but the Anti-Defamation League extremism researcher Mark Pitcavage and The Daily Beast have identified him as Brant Williams, who until this spring was a teacher in the majority-Native American Page Unified School District, which serves Page, Arizona, and surrounding areas. A representative for the PUSD told The Daily Beast that Williams left of his own volition at the end of the last school year. The representative said they weren’t aware of his work on the School of the West.

Williams did not respond to repeated efforts to reach him for comment on this story.

But experts on homeschooling and white nationalism alike say that his School actually reflects longstanding efforts to indoctrinate children into extremism. It’s just far more blatant, visible, and organized than many past extremist homeschooling endeavors. Amy Cooter, a sociologist who studies white nationalism, and grew up in a private Southern Baptist church school with connections to far-right homeschooling groups, argued the School’s blatant racism is not a naïve mistake, but a logical step in larger efforts to bring white-nationalist ideas into mainstream consciousness.

“Our political environment is more receptive to this sort of messaging at the moment,” she told The Daily Beast.

Notably, in recent months, fans of the School of the West have started to drop links to it in a few small social media communities focused on anti-critical race theory activism, in the hope that people who’ve bought into that twisted, partially manufactured, and racially charged furor might be amenable to the school and its ideology. This tactic probably won’t be as successful as fans of the School might hope, the experts The Daily Beast spoke to argued. But it may be more successful than many mainstream observers—and anti-CRT activists, most of whom vigorously dispute charges that their movement is tinged with racism—would be comfortable with.

“I’m sure that some people who’ve thought of themselves as not racist will buy into this,” Cooter told The Daily Beast.

Motives for homeschooling children in the United States have always been diverse. But for decades, a particularly vocal and visible subset of homeschoolers have advocated pulling kids out of school to escape the supposedly secular, liberal bias of public education. There’s also a longstanding connection between homeschooling and anti-integration white flight. Overt white nationalists in particular started to go all-in on homeschooling in the early 2000s, Pitcavage noted.

“White nationalists are interested in creating their own parallel society,” explained Sophie Bjork-James, an anthropologist who studies white-nationalist communities. “Educating children in white-supremacist values is part of this plan… White nationalists understand that exposing their children to multicultural curricula can lead to a rejection of their beliefs.”

However, Jameson Brewer, an education researcher who studies homeschooling tactics and trends, said that public resources and curricula created for these communities “tend to be more shrouded, to use dog whistles.” Their textbooks might, for example, frame slavery as a necessary evil, or present a both-sides narrative about Nazi policies. Cooter added that these sorts of materials also tend to show only images of white families, and talk exclusively about white people’s histories. Even curricula that express openly far-right ideologies often stop short of talking about things like core racial differences, instead just waxing poetic about loaded concepts like Western Christianity, nationalism, and tradition, while castigating social justice and wokeness as anathema to good, orderly society.

Richard Fording, a University of Alabama professor who tracks white-nationalist trends, said that there are more explicit “white-nationalist homeschooling groups out there, but they are normally kind of under the radar, not open to just anyone.” White nationalists also swap ideas about what to teach kids on their own niche platforms so as to help each other develop private, idiosyncratic curricula. In the mid-2000s, a Klan group did create what it called the first homeschooling resource for white-nationalist parents, but said it didn’t “intend to provide all the information, all the tools, books, etc.,” and instead just wanted to point folks “in the right direction.” Similarly, a white-nationalist women’s group on the West Coast created something that it called a curriculum, but that actually just guided those who purchased it through how to build their own.

Experts stressed that these efforts have always been small scale, ad hoc, and/or fleeting. Brant Williams clearly felt there was a major gap in educational offerings for open white-nationalists—and took it upon himself to fill it.

Williams has told a consistent story on a number of far-right livestreams and podcasts about how he came to develop the School of the West.

In these interviews, as on the School of the West site, he consistently goes by the name Brant Danger, and is often cagey about his location or exact job title. But after Pitcavage of the ADL learned about the School of the West this summer, he found an old social media handle and email address that used that pseudonym, and were both connected to the name Brant Williams. Both used the same profile photo, which resembles “Brant Danger,” who makes no effort to hide or disguise his face during livestreamed interviews or in School of the West videos. The social media account also included a white pride meme and some materials related to teaching.

Williams appears to have slipped up in a few of his Brant Danger interviews—if he ever was truly attempting to conceal his identitymentioning that he taught in Arizona, near a reservation. Pitcavage noticed that and, after some searching, found the name Brant Williams on the faculty page of a Page Unified School District school. He also found a YouTube video in which a man who looks exactly like “Brant Danger” identifies himself as Brant Williams, a Page-area earth and space sciences teacher, and castigates the local school district.

The Daily Beast checked public records and found a Brant Williams connected to an address in Page. The Arizona Department of Education’s teacher certification database also lists a Brant Williams with an active certificate and a specialization in earth sciences. The Daily Beast could not find any record of any other person named Brant Williams with a certification to teach in Arizona living within a 100-mile radius of Page. A Page Unified School District representative also told The Daily Beast that Brant Williams taught there until the end of the last school year, which lines up with details “Brant Danger” has given about his career status in interviews. The representative reviewed the YouTube video of Brant Williams deriding the district as well, and confirmed the man who appeared in it seemed to be the same Brant Williams who taught in their schools.

The Daily Beast also identified Arizona business incorporation papers that list a “Brant Williams” as the owner and operator of School of the West LLC, and connect him to an address in Page. The School of the West’s website used an anonymization service to hide its owner from registration databases. But within a trove of data published by hackers who broke into the far right-friendly web hosting service Epik, The Daily Beast found information showing that the site was registered by a “Brant Williams,” and linked to a post office box in Page.

In online interviews, Williams (speaking as “Brant Danger”) has claimed that he had a slow “racial awakening” over the course of his childhood, as he observed the differences between majority-white and majority-minority communities and schools. But in 2016, he’s said, he started researching Muslim immigration to Europe online and went “further and further down the rabbit holes.”

Eventually, he found Jason Köhne, an author and streamer instrumental in the development of a seemingly genteel new flavor of white nationalism focused on fostering so-called white wellbeing in the face of a supposed deluge of anti-white policies and propaganda. Köhne notably advocates for the open expression of white cultural pride as a counter to alleged systemic anti-white degradation and oppression. Williams became a mod in the chats that accompany some of Köhne’s livestreams, and clearly states in School of the West materials that many of his lessons are heavily informed by Köhne’s works, or even in some cases direct attempts to adapt their arguments for younger audiences. (Köhne did not respond to a request for comment on this story.)

Williams has also claimed that teaching in a majority-minority community deepened his belief in the fundamental differences between different races—or, put another way, reinforced his racism. Notably, he’s described his Native students as inherently less focused and punctual than his white students, and argued that the reservation communities near Page are covered in trash and full of mangy dogs because Native Americans don’t care about cleanliness or animals—baldly bogus and bigoted claims. He’s insisted that he loves all of his students, and bears no ill will towards other races—that they can and should live according to their supposed inborn and unique racial impulses. But he’s argued that diversity, and the influence of other cultures, is detrimental to white communities.

He’s also said that he’s long chafed at depictions of multiculturalism in school materials, and at efforts to promote equality or equity within classrooms and wider school systems. At times, he’s said, when he felt that school textbooks were teaching lies, he’d close the door to his classroom and teach what he believes to be the truth instead. In one interview, he recounted an instance in which his students asked if something was racist and he told them not to use that word because “that R word for white people is like the N word for black people… it’s just meant to hurt white people. Don’t use that word.”

“Here’s the thing with kids,” he recently told another interviewer. “If I told them that aliens came down and made these people in Hollywood and now everyone in Hollywood is aliens, they’d go, ‘Yeah, OK, alright.’ When you develop trust with your students, they’ll believe pretty much everything you say.”

This is bad when teachers promote anti-white propaganda, he argued. But it’s an asset when someone like him comes along to tell them the so-called truth about race and society.

As his urge to spread his blatantly racist gospel to young, impressionable minds—and his frustrations with the supposed anti-white bent of his district—festered, Williams apparently started talking in niche social-media communities about the importance of creating venues “for white kids who want to be taught by whites.” While he found people online who agreed with him, he couldn’t find any resources that he felt fit the bill.

Then in early 2020, the coronavirus pandemic forced his school to go remote. This, he’s claimed, gave him the time and space he needed to start making his dream a reality—building the foundations of the School of the West while still teaching in a public school. Registration data show that Williams began to create the School’s site in April 2020. (It is not entirely clear why he left the school at which he taught at the end of the last school year.) He’s claimed that Köhne helped him to connect with other so-called white wellbeing advocates across the web who helped him develop lessons; around a dozen white-nationalist figures, some obscure and some relatively well-known in this niche digital scene, appear to have contributed to the project. Williams has claimed that he’s still working with collaborators to build out the curriculum, which he boasts will grow far more comprehensive in the months and years to come.

Even before he officially incorporated and launched the School this past summer, far-right streams and social-media accounts started to promote and celebrate his venture. But awareness of the project was seemingly confined to niche white-nationalist spheres.

Then the right-wing panic over critical race theory exploded into public view.

The anti-CRT movement is largely alarmist and disingenuous. It thrives on misrepresentations of what CRT actually teaches, and of what is actually taught in most schools, in a way that demonizes discussions about systemic racism or unconscious bias in educational settings, or in some cases even discussions of America’s history of racism overall. However, even critics of the critical race theory backlash acknowledge that there’s a big gap between that freak-out and the full-throated white nationalism that the School of the West promotes. Most anti-CRT figures promote a willful colorblindness—often grounded in decontextualized and sanitized Martin Luther King Jr. quotes—that white nationalists find abhorrent.

But as Wendy K.Z. Anderson, an expert on critical race theory at the University of Minnesota, noted in an interview, some anti-CRT activists believe the framework is mainly “a mechanism to convey guilt onto white children.” Analyses have also suggested that the most fervent CRT debates track to areas experiencing notable demographic change. So there’s a current within the anti-CRT sphere that is anxious about and sensitive to perceived slights against whiteness, above all else.

White nationalists recognize that current. That’s why, Bjork-James argued, they ultimately “see in the current focus on critical race theory an opportunity to recruit new members.”

Or, as a far-right streamer put it in a conversation with Williams a few months back: “The anti-CRT movement, I think, is the best place to … present our movement.”

“I wouldn’t go so far as to use the School of the West to argue that homeschooling shouldn’t exist. But I think it shows what can happen when homeschooling is so unregulated: It opens itself up to these extremist ideologies.”

Jameson Brewer

The streamer later added, “We need to co-opt that movement.”

In recent months, far-right figures like Candace Owens, Ron Paul, and Steve Bannon have urged families to consider homeschooling their kids to save their minds from supposed liberal racial propaganda. The number of homeschooled students in America has more than doubled since the spring of 2020, but it’s not clear how much of that tracks to anti-CRT sentiment. (Notably, the fastest-growing homeschooling demographics are actually people of color, many of whom opt for homeschooling to avoid systemic racism.) But the idea that families might heed these calls has seemingly captivated some extremist homeschooling curriculum developers, who’ve started to use explicit anti-CRT messaging to advertise their materials to anxious parents.

Hence the logic and appeal of seeding School of the West links in anti-CRT social-media circles. As Fording put it, the School and its advocates are “banking on the fact that there are people who are now not embarrassed to embrace their inner white nationalism due to the fact that their concerns [about so-called anti-white sentiments and policies] have been normalized.”

On a stream a few weeks back, when asked for his thoughts on rising anti-CRT furor, Williams said, “You have a population of parents that have finally woken up, because the anti-white material is being propagandized and advertised so loudly now that they can’t ignore it… So overall, I think this is a good thing.” He suggested that this popular outrage will bring some around to his line of thought, and to homeschooling.

The Daily Beast reached out to several prominent anti-CRT groups for comment on the School of the West and its and other white-nationalist groups’ apparent interest in co-opting them. Only one, Parents Against Critical Theory, replied. Their founder, Scott Mineo said he and his compatriots “do not believe in a race-based or -centric education, no matter the race,” and that he had never heard of the School of the West.

“I’m not here to judge how any family conducts the homeschooling of their kids,” he added. “It’s not my business, no matter the ethnicity.”

However, a few anti-CRT advocates appear to have noticed School of the West links showing up in their communities. One recent movement newsletter specifically called the School out, and took pains to instruct fellow activists not to be confused or seduced by white-nationalist rhetoric.

Khalilah Harris, an expert on education policy and critical race theory at the left-wing Center for American Progress, doubts that too many anti-CRT types will buy into the appeal of the School. Open white nationalism is still beyond the pale, even for many individuals with clear racial anxieties.

But most of the experts The Daily Beast spoke to believe that, even if the School doesn’t draw in a huge number of anti-CRT activists, it could still pull a non-negligible section of the movement into the white-nationalist orbit by stoking and affirming their worst race-based fears.

The open bigotry of the School of the West—and its potential for radicalizing adults and children alike—mean that “this project might be viewed by many as a threat to all of American society,” as Jim Dwyer, a law professor and author of a history of homeschooling in the U.S., put it.

But there are currently no clear legal injunctions against something like the School of the West. Although homeschooling laws vary from state to state, in most of the country, parents can basically teach their kids whatever they want at home. Even in states that require education in certain subjects and ask parents to submit curricula, it’s easy to tick all the right boxes on a form, then just teach whatever you like in practice. There’s no real follow-up. And as long as a parent is covering all the materials required, the state is not in a position to critique the ideological spin they may put on it.

“We have no meaningful checks on whether parents are teaching their children stuff we might think of as bad—in fundamental conflict with the values of our society, like white nationalism,” Elizabeth Bartholet, a legal scholar, child-welfare law expert, and critic of homeschooling norms and regulations, told The Daily Beast.

“I wouldn’t go so far as to use the School of the West to argue that homeschooling shouldn’t exist,” added Brewer, the homeschooling scholar. “But I think it shows what can happen when homeschooling is so unregulated: It opens itself up to these extremist ideologies.”

However, strong political trends and practical constraints pose obstacles to the implementation of any reforms that might meaningfully curb the use and abuse of homeschooling as a hate-indoctrination pipeline. “Even people who feel strongly that there should be more regulation and have recommended various changes will say, ‘But it’s hopeless,’” Bartholet said.

In other words, the School of the West likely won’t be going away anytime soon.

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