Community discussion on critical race theory gets heated
Those with dissenting viewpoints say they were met with hostility while event organizers say some attendees tried to hijack the conversation
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the correct spelling of Lt. Col. Matthew Lohmeier’s name.
A Summit County event discussing critical race theory drew a crowd of more than 100 people Friday, Aug. 13.
A flyer described the event as educational and nonpartisan, but the majority of the 2 1/2 hour event featured panelists explaining their perspectives in opposition to critical race theory in addition to discussions on other topics, such as Marxism, communism, the U.S. military and Summit School District.
During the Q&A segment near the end of the event, many in the audience hoped to take the microphone to ask questions or share their thoughts. Those with opposing viewpoints said they were met with hostility, and the event went 30 minutes past its scheduled time with people still waiting in line to speak.
According to Bill Tracy, who reached out to the Summit Daily News with details about the event, the discussion was coordinated by a “group of varied local citizens concerned about the indoctrination of critical race theory in our local school district.”
Event panelists included Colorado resident Lt. Col. Matthew Lohmeier, who shared his concerns with conversations and training centered around race in the U.S. Air Force; Texas resident Alex Hogue, who shared her experience living in a country with a communist government; and Summit County residents Cheryl Newey, a representative from Summit School District Watch, and Lt. Gen. Rod Bishop, a retired U.S. Air Force member.
Lohmeier’s main point was that he believes critical race theory divides people rather than unites them.
“I hope that whatever understanding of this obscure phrase ‘critical race theory’ that you may have come to in the past few months, you leave here, whether you believe it or not, hearing from me that critical race theory is undeniably Marxist,” Lohmeier said.
Lohmeier explained that after the murder of George Floyd, there were mandated discussions about race in the U.S. military, which took shape in the form of diversity and inclusion trainings, race discussions and book clubs. He said these discussions became a daily part of life in the military.
“We have emails from my base commander as well as various base leadership about these issues,” Lohmeier said. “But they weren’t just emails drawing our attention to what you might understandably consider problems in society; they additionally contained links to what I would consider anti-America propaganda. Videos, articles attacking the U.S. Constitution — unacceptable in the U.S. military service members’ environment.”
Lohmeier shared how after talking with supervisors and filing a complaint, he received notice that his complaint had been received and dealt with, but he felt it had been dismissed. He then wrote a book: “Irresistible Revolution: Marxism’s Goal of Conquest & the Unmaking of the American Military.”
Bishop, who said he shared Lohmeier’s concerns, introduced himself as the president and chairman of Stand Together Against Racism and Radicalism in the Service, an organization he and others formed over a year ago. He talked about the issue he had with the U.S. Air Force Academy football program posting a video discussing racism and repeating the words “black lives matter.”
“Why do we have to use the slogan of an organization that has told us they are Marxist?” Bishop asked.
Bishop discussed the nine-month process for getting the video taken down, which he said was a good example of people banding together to say, “Let’s not be divisive.” He called out reading material and videos for cadets as being one-sided.
“This is a nonpartisan issue,” Bishop said. “This, ladies and gentleman, is an American issue.”
Hogue, who talked about her experience with communism in Romania, made an unusual presentation illustrating her discontent with the government by showing expressionless portraits of herself, in which she simply said, “communism,” contrasted with photos of her looking ecstatic, where she exclaimed, “capitalism!” Hogue then sang “Amazing Grace.”
Closer to home in Summit County, Newey explained that the school district watch group is composed of parents who are concerned about a lack of academic focus in local schools. She said that with Summit School District’s Just & Equitable Education Policy, community members can expect “ongoing racial injustice indoctrination,” Black Lives Matter principles and “wokeism” in schools, and she added that the policy will be reflected in unit plans, texts, training and hiring.
Newey encouraged parents to engage their children in conversations about what they’re learning in school and teach their children to think critically, to build positive relationships with their children’s teachers, to attend parent-teacher conferences and to volunteer to help in the classroom.
Once discussion leader Jeanne Belli announced it was time for the Q&A portion of the event, Alexandria Carns, who is chair of the Breckenridge Social Equity Advisory Commission, stood at the podium. She posed a question to the audience, asking: “If you believe in human dignity, say ‘yes.'”
A member of the audience responded, asking what her question was, and why she was “taking over the meeting.” Belli went to the stage to talk with Carns but couldn’t be heard over the microphone. Carns announced she was being instructed to “just ask the question” and not engage the audience, and she noted that there was “a lot of hostility” in the room. Carns then asked Hogue if she believes there is a parallel between critical race theory and communism. Hogue said “yes” and stated that critical race theory doesn’t allow dissent.
Another audience member asked for clarification on two points made by panelists, including the parallels made between critical race theory and Marxism.
In response, Lohmeier said he traced the lineage of ideas from the thinking of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the Communist Manifesto to the Frankfurt School in the 1930s and Marxists that fled the Third Reich and came to Columbia University and established a school of thought called critical theory, which he said morphed over time to critical legal theory and critical race theory.
Another speaker asked whether panelists knew of any critical race theory standards being taught in Summit County schools, but panelists felt they weren’t qualified to answer the question.
After the event, attendee Kimberlyn Bryant shared her disappointment.
“I honestly thought it was a chance for me to be educated on what was going on, and I left feeling dismayed. I was heartbroken,” Bryant said.
“What I felt in that room, it was visceral. The racial tension was powerful; it was palpable. And I’m not saying everyone in that room was that way, but I was shocked,” Bryant said, describing how she said she was treated as one of the few people of color in the audience.
Bryant said the event did not offer an open dialogue, which she said was made clear when audience members attacked Carns and others who stepped up to the microphone with dissenting opinions. She became emotional when relaying her reaction to messaging from panelists and comments from the audience, saying, “It might as well be 1965.”
“I was open to (the Q&A), but then when I saw how they treated certain people, it was just very obvious there were rules for certain people and rules for other people, and those other people happened to be the people of color,” Bryant said.
Tracy defended calling the event nonpartisan by clarifying that the word was used to describe the makeup of the audience rather than the topic itself.
“As far as apolitical, (critical race theory) is either one side or another,” Tracy said. “We felt that we wanted people of all persuasions to come in — that was our apolitical stance.”
Tracy also responded to criticism of the Q&A by clarifying that the event hosts were simply out of time, with the venue contract ending at 8 p.m., 30 minutes before Belli called it.
Tracy also expressed concern that some people from the audience were not honoring the intent of the Q&A.
“We felt that they were trying to maybe take over with their message, and it was actually a Q&A,” Tracy said.
Next up for event organizers, Tracy said, is a focus on the upcoming school board election in November.
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