The recently elected US representative Madison Cawthorn has been heralded by some right-wing extremists as the new, young face of the Republican Party. His rise to prominence, however, is controversial, whether it’s misleading the public about training for the Paralympics or using incendiary rhetoric in the run-up to the Capitol storm. Another notable part of Cawthorn’s background, however, is the semester he spent at Patrick Henry College, a small conservative Christian college about an hour from Washington DC. His campaign was forced to revise a Facebook endorsement from the school after the school’s founder, Michael Farris, denied supporting him, thanks in part to allegations by several female students that Cawthorn was a routine sexual harasser.
But Cawthorn is just one of many Patrick Henry graduates to enter politics in Washington. Although it was only founded in 2000, Patrick Henry College – or, as reporter Hanna Rosin called it, “God’s Harvard” – has a legacy that goes deep into US politics. The college has been heavily focused on government and international relations from the start. The school has several graduates who have worked for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and administration, most notably former director of strategic communications, Alyssa Farah. And its unique focus on international affairs provides a glimpse into how the American Christian right views foreign policy, as well as the role of the United States in the world.
Patrick Henry College is part of a broader range of Christian colleges in the United States. These schools are a diverse group of institutions ranging from King’s College in New York City with fewer than 600 students to Liberty University with over 100,000 students and an extensive online degree program. However, these colleges often differ from their secular counterparts in that they have a strong religious education focus, requiring students to take courses in Bible studies, and offering programs that focus on training students for service.
This is not the case with Patrick Henry, although its origins lie directly in right-wing evangelism. Farris, an ordained Baptist minister, was best known for his previous efforts to legalize home schooling through the Home School Legal Defense Association. Home schooling is a major cause of American gospel law and is seen as a way to provide biblically centered education for children as opposed to public schools. According to the college’s Mission & History page, Farris founded the facility to answer a question posed by parents at home: “Where was a college they went to for biblical instruction, academic rigor, and a nurturing spiritual environment for their own? could trust talented young people? Students?”
Unlike other conservative Christian colleges like Oral Roberts University or Regent University, Patrick Henry College’s primary focus is on serving the government, so it’s just an hour outside Washington. The only major offer made in his first year was the government. For a Christian college in particular, the school is not denominational and not affiliated with a church, nor does it offer a major in service, but only a minor for Bible studies. Its catalog contains a promise of doctrinal neutrality in order to avoid theological differences that often plague religious law.
The college’s goals are made clear in its catalog, which states: “Assisting in the transformation of American society by training Christian students to serve God and humanity with a passion for justice, justice and mercy through careers in public service and cultural influence. “The Biblical Worldview section further consolidates the close links between his conservative political and religious views. It condemns sex outside of marriage, stating that any government that “creates special legal rights and safeguards based on sexual behavior acts immorally and without authority”. The section further argues that socialism and communism violate God’s order because they oppose private property. These conservative views are in turn reflected in the college’s academic performance. All students are required to take “Economics for the Citizen”, a course aimed at “developing an understanding of how markets work and providing an overview of political economy”.
However, the books assigned for the course are a showcase of US conservative economic thought, including Milton and Rose Friedman’s Free to Choose and Friedrich Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit: The Faults of Socialism and The Road to Serfdom among the featured titles. Adding to these are newer titles like Arthur C. Brooks’ The Conservative Heart: How to Build a More Just, Happier, and Wealthier America, which further strengthens the links between the college-advocate worldview and the Republican Party.
According to Stephen Baskerville, a former professor of international relations at Patrick Henry College whom I interviewed, the college’s approach is aimed at both teaching the concepts of international affairs and including religious subjects in the curriculum. For example, Baskerville’s teaching would involve discussing church-state relations by comparing the role of religion in different European countries. An ideal graduate of Patrick Henry College is described in the catalog as “knowing and appreciating our roots and the value of Western civilization and the philosophical foundation of that civilization in the Christian tradition”.
This Eurocentric view is continued in the core curriculum of the university. Although students must complete two semesters of both United States and Western civilization history, the college’s history offerings are much less present in other regions of the world. The college does not offer a permanent course on Latin American or African history. Unsurprisingly, for a conservative Christian institution, Patrick Henry has a heavy emphasis on the Middle East. The college offers a student trip to Israel. The college also offers a course on the history of Islam, the description of which includes the term “Islamofascist movements,” a term popularized by right-wing author David Horowitz and largely rejected by Islamic scholars. However, Baskerville told me that in his courses he tried to incorporate perspectives from other regions of the world, for example by speaking about Muslim-Christian relations in Nigeria.
Another unique part of the college is the Strategic Intelligence Program, which aims to teach students “Defending a Free Society” and develop their ability to anticipate “moral, ethical and missionary challenges in defending the security of the nation.” The faculty of the program includes several retired US security officers, including staff from the FBI, the Department of Defense, and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Their website has numerous testimonials from anonymous graduates speaking of the great benefits they have received in their careers through their education. The site promotes special projects that monitor the US-Mexico border and track human trafficking. Both are important political issues for US rights.
Patrick Henry’s faculty and staff provide the college’s links to the conservative foreign policy world in the greater Washington area. Katie Gorka, a former Trump adviser and wife of right-wing media personality Sebastian Gorka, is a board member of the college’s Strategic Intelligence Program, which is also an academic partner of the Heritage Foundation’s think tank. An integral part of the college’s mission is the apprenticeship program, which requires students to undertake additional activities to develop their skills, such as internships with non-profit organizations or political campaigns. The college, in turn, prominently advertises students who have worked in Congress, the conservative media, and the White House. I asked several former students to comment on the school program but received no response.
Some staff members are also linked to the right at home and abroad – although some have since left school. One of them is Baskerville, who is reported to have made several homophobic statements during his tenure as a professor with Patrick Henry. This included claiming in a college speech that “homosexual activists” played a key role in the rise of Nazism, and that “sexual ideologues” had exacerbated the AIDS crisis in developing countries by distributing condoms rather than promoting abstinence. Baskerville also attended the 2013 anti-LGBTQ World Congress of Families conference and spoke in 2013 outside the white nationalist HL Mencken Club with neo-Nazi activist Richard Spencer.
Another notable former faculty member at Patrick Henry College is Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, a right-wing Polish-American scholar who reportedly helped shape Trump’s 2017 speech at the Warsaw Uprising Memorial, in which the president called for a fight in defense of the West. Chodakiewicz is notorious for his rejection of Polish anti-Semitism and his claim that Polish Jews were more likely to kill Catholic Poles after World War II than Catholic Poles took violent measures against Jews during the war. This claim led to his removal from his position on the US Holocaust Memorial Council in 2009. Chodakiewicz has made a number of controversial comments, including endorsement of the far-right allegation of the white genocide in South Africa and the charge against Senator Bernie Sanders of being a “Jewish Bolshevik”.
Patrick Henry College offers a completely different education than other international affairs programs. However, understanding the college and what makes it unique helps clarify how American Christian law aims to shape US foreign policy. The mission of the college goes back not only to a “classical education” but also to an older, western-dominated era of international affairs, of which the right-wing extremist faculty is only the most visible example. Although the college is relatively new and small, its Washington alumni have held a number of prestigious roles and can help shape US foreign policy for decades to come.