Founded in 1981 by Chip Berlet (who is also a member of the National Lawyers Guild) and political scientist Jean Hardisty, Political Research Associates (PRA) bills itself as a “progressive think tank” that monitors what it terms “the threat posed to human rights by oppressive and authoritarian movements and trends in the United States.” In its effort to help “build the movement for progressive social change,” PRA studies “the full spectrum of the U.S. Political Right — from ultraconservatives in the electoral arena to paramilitary organizations to supremacist groups.” The slogan on PRA’s website reads: “Researching the Right for Progressive Changemakers.” Professing a desire to create “a more just and inclusive democratic society,” PRA “seeks to advance progressive thinking and action by providing research-based information, analysis, and referrals.”
“While attacks on human rights can come from any direction,” says PRA, “it is the political Right that … uses misleading terms such as ‘parental rights’ and ‘personal responsibility’ to oppose movements and organizations that promote tolerance and equality. Whether it is immigrants, gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered people, ethnic minorities or the poor, the Right routinely uses scapegoating to pursue their agenda.”
PRA Executive Director Roberta Salper elaborates:
“The growing power of the Right in the electoral sphere has alarmed all of us who work for social justice. The neoconservative doctrine of pre-emptive war, the use of distorted evidence and the rule of fear have scarred our citizenry; an alliance of the Christian Right and adventurist neoconservatives populates all levels of government … The systemic undermining of rights and policies that progressive social movements labored for a century to achieve is well underway … Right-wing ideas such as dismantling Social Security, supporting federal funding for faith-based programs, and privatizing public education are now seen as feasible policy alternatives. Waves of xenophobia surge as the ‘war on terror’ is evoked to justify detention without trial and the mass deportation of immigrants. Trampling on people’s civil liberties has become routine, as have divisive gay-bashing initiatives such as the federal marriage amendment.”
PRA speaks out on virtually all controversial social and political issues. For instance, it impugns Ward Connerly, the former California Board of Regents member who has fought to end affirmative action in his state, as “a right-wing race activist” who “proposes to rewrite state constitutions with a ban on equal opportunity programs.” It condemns the “marriage discrimination strategies” and rhetorical “gimmicks” allegedly employed by those who oppose the legalization of gay marriage. And it characterizes government efforts to punish employers who hire illegal aliens as “anti-immigrant” measures.
PRA identifies its two overriding agendas as: (a) boosting “dialectical materialism” — a doctrine based on the writings of Marx and Engels, and elaborated upon by Plekhanov, Lenin, and Stalin; and (b) promoting “progressive internationalism” to thwart the successes of capitalism. Toward these ends, PRA produces a wide variety of educational and analytical resources like the following:
• Activist Resource Kits: Designed “to defend against a particularly focused right-wing attack,” these kits include such titles as:
(a) Defending Public Education: “Public education is under siege. Christian Right and other conservative groups are waging a concerted campaign to win public sympathy and support for education ‘reforms.’ These include vouchers, privatization, ‘parental rights,’ and an end to bilingual education.”
(b) Defending Reproductive Rights: advocates the universal right to taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand
(c) Defending Immigrant Rights:calls for open borders and amnesty for all illegal aliens
(d) Defending Justice:”analyzes the role of the Right and the State in the Criminal ‘Justice’ system”; “examines the origins of the ‘Tough on Crime’ movement”; claims that immigrants are being abused by the justice system in the post-9/11 era; and denounces “profits from incarceration”
(e) Defending Democracy: “provides facts and analysis on the threat the Right poses to democratic principles, diversity and equality”
• The Public Eye: This quarterly magazine “provides thorough and insightful reports on specific and current movements or trends within the U.S. political Right.”
• Special Reports: These publications focus on “specific right-wing movements or strategies.” Past reports include such titles as: Calculated Compassion, a “detail of the Right’s attack on gays and lesbians through the ‘Ex-Gay’ movement”; Decades of Distortion, an account of “the Right’s strategy to scapegoat welfare recipients”; and The Pioneer Institute, Privatizing the Common Wealth, a “profile of a state-level conservative think tank.”
• www.publiceye.org: This PRA website details the organization’s worldviews and agendas, and provides information about, and links to, likeminded groups.
PRA makes available — for conferences, trainings, and community organizations — a roster of speakers who are prepared to address “a range of issues from The Christian Right and Dominionism; Left and Right Conspiracy Theories; the conservative backlash against women’s, LGBT, and human rights; or the encroachment [of] conservative politics into communities of color.”
PRA endorsed the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights‘ December 18, 2001 “Statement of Solidarity with Migrants.” This document called upon the U.S. government to “[r]ecognize the contribution of immigrant workers, students, and families, and [to] end discriminatory policies passed on the basis of legal status in the wake of September 11”; to “[g]uarantee and provide relief to the loved ones of the victims and those unemployed in the World Trade Center attacks, regardless of immigration status, without intimidation or threat of deportation”; and to adopt “the Plan of Action from the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance” — which was largely a forum for anti-American and anti-Israel rhetoric.
In September 2008 PRA posted a help-wanted ad seeking a “Campus Antisemitism & Islamophobia Project Lead Investigator.” Needing no specified academic credentials, this researcher would be required to author a report exploring what factors might be “fueling” the “interrelated phenomena” of “Islamophobia and antisemitism [sic] on U.S. college campuses.”
PRA’s worldview deems it axiomatic that “Islamophobia” pervades academia, and that it stems from hateful, xenophobic tendencies inherent in American culture. By contrast, the organization ascribes anti-Semitism largely to the provocations of “the issues of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, of United States policy in relation to that conflict, and of U.S. foreign policy in the Mideast and surrounding regions.”
PRA receives no funding from government sources. Its financing derives entirely from foundation grants, individual contributions, and income from the sale of materials. Among the foundations that support PRA are the Ford Foundation, the New York Community Trust, the Public Welfare Foundation, and the San Francisco Foundation. The entertainer Barbra Streisand is also a PRA benefactor.