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William Barr Is Neck-Deep in Extremist Catholic Institutions

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It’s not enough that Attorney General William Barr, whose office is supposed to be nominally independent of the president’s, is busy pursuing Donald Trump’s paranoid global and domestic grudges around the world. He’s also finding time to denounce his own country. In a histrionic speech at University of Notre Dame law school Friday, Barr blamed “secularists” and “so-called progressives” for destroying society and precipitating the crises of family dissolution, crime and drugs, while talking of a war between religious and non-religious Americans. Scary shit.

“This is not decay,” Barr intoned darkly at Notre Dame. “This is organized destruction. Secularists and their allies have marshaled all the forces of mass communication, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.” 

“Virtually every measure of social pathology continues to gain ground,” he continued. “Along with the wreckage of the family we are seeing record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence and the deadly drug epidemic.” He accused the government, with no evidence, of blocking the “passing on of the faith” from parents to their children, which he called a “monstrous invasion of religious liberty.” 

According to Mother Jones, Barr’s extremist talk “shocked legal experts, who saw Barr’s defense of religious freedom as an assault on the First Amendment’s protection against the government’s establishment of any religion.” On Twitter, legal experts were horrified. As former government ethics lawyer Walter Schaub declaimed:

But they shouldn’t have been surprised: the buttoned-down, establishment-seeming Barr is actually neck deep in a web of extremist conservative Catholic institutions, and he has been for the last three decades.

Barr disclosed on a questionnaire submitted during his Senate confirmation process that he’s been an active leader of several far-right Catholic and Christian groups. As recently as 2017, he was on the board of directors of the DC-based Catholic Information Center, led by the ultra-right and secretive Opus Dei group. He’s not alone in being tied to that center: its board includes the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo; White House counsel Pat Cipollone is a former board member. “The small center — its members and its leaders — continue to have an outsize impact on policy and politics,” the Washington Post wrote earlier this year.

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