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“The Constitution comes second to the word of God.”

Earlier this year, pistol-packing pastor Troy Jackson, a former strategist for the Republican Party of Texas and current candidate for vice chair of the Texas GOP, beamed as he welcomed a dozen conservative activists into a flag-adorned meeting room at New Beginnings Church in Bedford. The attendees included the founder of Citizens Defending Freedom, a Tarrant County GOP official, the founder of the local John Birch Society, and a representative from the far-right group Turning Point USA. They were gathering as the Remnant Alliance, a coalition of Christian nationalist groups working to educate, train, and mobilize conservative Christian congregations to influence the outcomes of local elections — especially school boards.

“Even if I don’t have kids in school, I’m showing up at school board meetings and testifying that you’re not going to teach our children this smut,” Jackson told the group. “You’re not going to sexualize these children, because, even though I may not have children in the school, it affects the entire community.”

Jackson’s heated rhetoric echoes the talking points deployed by state-level Republican lawmakers, big-dollar political action committees (PACs), and well-connected Republican consulting firms that have descended upon local school board races in recent years — and helped install majorities that have taken books off library shelves and rolled back protections for LGBTQ+ students. The election of those majorities was not coincidental: A recent Texas Observer investigative series revealed the coordinated nature of efforts to back more than 105 hard-right school board candidates across 35 districts since 2021 and how those efforts were funded in large part by billionaire donors who support school privatization.

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For decades, various far-right, faith-based organizations have been working to train pastors and turn congregants into school board activists and candidates, but now the Remnant Alliance has united several powerful conservative Christian groups whose overarching ideology is Christian nationalism, “an ideology that seeks to privilege conservative Christianity in education, law, and public policy,” according to David Brockman, a religious scholar with the Baker Institute at Rice University. While conservative churches and outspoken pastors have long played roles in local politics, the Remnant Alliance represents a deepening and broadening of efforts to elect candidates who promise to infuse right-wing Christian values into policy.

 

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From Keller to Katy, such right-wing religious candidates continue to run for school boards in 2024, increasingly with the vocal support of pastors and congregations in the Remnant Alliance orbit. While some deep red areas like Llano have become flashpoints, most of the action appears clustered in suburban districts around North Texas, Austin, and Houston.

“We are a team of ministries and faith-based organizations who are committed to providing a clear path for pastors and churches to move into active engagement with culture for the purpose of bringing God’s moral values, once again, as the foundation of America’s success, while also opposing evil in our land,” the Remnant Alliance website reads.

In Keller, two right-wing school board incumbents, Charles Randklev and Heather Washington, were prayed over at Mercy Culture, the Northside church where a “Biblical Citizenship” and “End-times Prophecy” ministry is led by Mark Fulmer. The founder of the North Texas chapter of the John Birch Society attended the February Remnant Alliance meeting.

And in Katy, two right-wing school board challengers, Donovan Campbell and David Olson, received endorsements from Katy Christian Magazine, a publication that has run articles on school board politics penned by Rick Scarborough, a Remnant Alliance leader who attended that same meeting and whose organization, Recover America, focuses on school board elections.

The Remnant Alliance is an amalgam of independent organizations that share goals and sometimes personnel. It operates as a sort of clearinghouse for Christian nationalist ideology and is building its coalition with a five-step plan: First, local pastors are trained to have a “Biblical Worldview” through Liberty Pastors; second, pastors begin teaching a “Biblical Worldview” from the pulpit with the help of preprepared notes; third, congregants are trained on “Biblical Citizenship” and “Constitutional Defense” through the so-called Patriot Academy; fourth, pastors form a “Salt and Light” ministry at their church and are paired with a Citizens Defending Freedom liaison; and fifth, entire congregations are mobilized to “extend the Kingdom of God” with the help of advocacy groups — in other words, to vote for “Biblical values” candidates in races that can be decided by a few hundred ballots.

The alliance’s political activism is framed as spiritual warfare against satanic evil in the pursuit of realizing the kingdom of God on Earth.

Matthew Taylor, a scholar at the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies, says the Charismatic Christian language of spiritual warfare has become a sort of lingua franca for the broader Christian nationalist movement, which is increasingly locally focused.

“It’s become a very effective schema for how to get Christians angry, how to get Christians mobilized, and how to get Christians taking action locally,” Taylor said. “And I think it is going to really redound to their benefit and power in this upcoming national election.”

As Taylor sees it, the strategy has shifted from a “Hail Mary” pass to get Donald Trump elected in 2016 to more localized efforts that feed into national politics.

“They’re working to activate these grassroots networks that can take over these school boards and city councils,” Taylor said. “The juice they get from seeing this local victory will then spur people on towards a national approach. It’s very politically sharp.”

School boards are a top priority for the Remnant Alliance, whose leaders encourage activists to attend school board meetings. Scarborough, an alliance leader, has vowed to free school boards from “godless educrats” and save children from “being groomed by homosexuals and the trans perverts to be recruited into their evil lifestyles.”

It’s difficult to exaggerate the scope of the Remnant Alliance’s collective influence. Between the nine groups that make up the coalition, there are thousands of churches and hundreds of thousands of activists. Among the partners are: Citizens Defending Freedom, a Christian nationalist group with chapters in several states that critics have described as “Moms for Liberty in suits”; Liberty Pastors, a training organization for church leaders founded by politically outspoken Oklahoma pastor Paul Blair; Recover America, a nondenominational ministry led by Scarborough that aims to mobilize pastors and their congregations to “vote biblically” in school board elections; Patriot Academy, an educational organization founded by former Texas state representative Rick Green with seed funding from Christian nationalist David Barton; Turning Point USA, a college-focused group with a track record of associating with extremists that is led by media personality Charlie Kirk; ACT for America, an advocacy organization led by Brigitte Gabriel that has pushed anti-Muslim rhetoric and recently recruited on a QAnon show; the Salt and Light Council, a parachurch organization led by Dran Reese that works to equip pastors to mobilize their congregants toward political ends; Liberty Counsel, a legal organization led by former pastor Mathew Staver that provides litigation support to the conservative Christian movement; and All Pro Pastors, a networking and education group for pastors that has aligned with election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell.

Several Remnant Alliance leaders — such as Blair, Scarborough, Kirk, Gabriel, Reese, and Staver — are also members of the Council on National Policy (CNP), a secretive group founded in 1981 that has worked to link wealthy right-wing donors and political operatives to plan and execute long-term strategies.

Award-winning journalist Anne Nelson, whose book Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right provides an in-depth look into the CNP, has described the group as a “pluto-theocracy.”

The Remnant Alliance, she says, is “just the latest version of an ongoing effort to politicize evangelical pastors and their congregations by the radical right wing of the Republican Party. These efforts are heavily financed and coordinated by the network of mega-donors and organizations involved in the Council for National Policy.”

Since the beginning of 2024, the Remnant Alliance has held over a dozen meetings at local churches across Texas. Some included local Republican party officials, such as a February 6 meeting during which Rosalie Escobedo, the Tarrant County GOP secretary and executive director of the Tarrant County chapter of Citizens Defending Freedom, endorsed training children to “not give up Jesus” through “end times militaristic preparation,” such as “army crawls” that troops use to advance during battle.

“Friends, the response of pastors at these meetings has been overwhelming,” reads a January 21 newsletter from Recover America. “Over 90% of pastors attending [decided] to team with the Remnant Alliance to educate, equip, empower, and lead their congregations to be ‘Salt and Light’ in their local communities.”

Steve Monacelli

 

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At the New Beginnings meeting, Remnant Alliance members engaged in a wide-ranging discussion that blurred the lines between faith and politics. Jackson, the hosting pastor, boasted that 19 of his congregants ran for office in 2022, mainly school boards and city councils. He touted firearms classes held at the church and explained how he trains Republican precinct chairs to engage in “Kingdom activism,” a concept promoted by self-described Christian nationalist prophet Lance Wallnau, a leader in the controversial “New Apostolic Reformation” who lives in Keller.

Jackson is a model of the pastors the Remnant Alliance seeks: He’s highly political, teaches “biblical citizenship” at a nondenominational church, employs the rhetoric of “spiritual warfare,” and is a proponent of Christian nationalist ideas such as the Seven Mountains Mandate — a theology popularized by Wallnau that calls for Christians to rule over the seven domains of family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business, and government. Jackson’s business card includes a link to his Republican party vice chair campaign website, which features a photo of him with Wallnau. In 2020, the oil billionaire-funded Texas Scorecard dubbed Jackson a “happy warrior” for his political activism.

“The law of nature is God’s law, which is the law of the land,” said Steve Maxwell, the founder of Citizens Defending Freedom, during the February meeting. “It comes before the constitution.”

“That’s it,” Jackson responded. “The Constitution comes second to the word of God.”

“Amen,” Maxwell said in agreement.

After establishing mutual understanding during two hours of animated conversation, Jackson closed the Remnant Alliance meeting with a prayer.

“God,” he said, “we thank you for the presidential campaign. We thank you for Donald Trump. … We thank you that you’re building a hedge of protection around him and the entire team as they go about all across the nation. We know that the weapons of our warfare are mighty for you. … God, I thank you for fortifying us in this moment so that we can go into the enemy’s camp and declare victory.”

In an interview, Jackson said he linked up with the Remnant Alliance in 2023.

“The purpose of the Remnant Alliance is to provide free resources to churches to do exactly what we’re doing in our church through Biblical Citizenship teaching,” Jackson said. “A lot of pastors are not willing to teach or do certain things in their church, not because of fear but because they’re not equipped to do it and they don’t know enough about it because they know how to teach and preach the word of God, but they don’t know the civic side of the game.”

Scarborough, the self-described Christocrat who has a long political resume and a national profile, is a regular at such Remnant Alliance pastor meetings. In addition to his CNP membership, Scarborough serves on the board of the National Association of Christian Lawmakers, which, according to Baptist News, embraces “a ‘biblical worldview” that claims political organizing is spiritual warfare, that spiritual revival can come through political activism, and that Christians should have dominion over nonbelievers.”

Mike Johnson, the powerful speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives who is also a proponent of the Seven Mountains Mandate, addressed the National Association of Christian Lawmakers convention on December 5, 2023, saying that God had prepared him to be a “new Moses.”

Through Recover America, Scarborough claims to have already helped elect two “committed Christians” to the Houston school district’s board of trustees and three “biblical values candidates” in the Cypress-Fairbanks school district in 2021. Scarborough agreed to an interview with me but canceled hours before it was scheduled.

One of the candidates he supported was Natalie Kagan Blasingame, a former educator and public school administrator who back in 2015 unsuccessfully campaigned for a Cypress-Fairbanks school board position explicitly on the issue that Christianity should have more of a place in classrooms and evinced belief in the Seven Mountains Mandate in an email seeking financial support.

“God is weaving the pieces together, Blasingame wrote, “making sure he is positioning Christians at the head of all the mountains of culture. … The Lord put in on my heart that my agenda is to tear down the over interpretation of the separation of church and state that has shut God out of schools.”

In 2021, Blasingame ran again for school board and won, along with the two other PAC-backed candidates Scarborough supported. She now serves as the board’s vice president.

Steve Monacelli

 

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In total, Recover America claims to have helped conservative candidates win 25 of 36 school board races since 2019.

“In May 2023, three conservative candidates were elected to the Katy ISD School Board,” Scarborough wrote in an April 2024 newsletter. “This changed the ‘majority opinion’ of the Katy ISD School Board and thus the direction of the ISD toward faith-based values. It happened in a single election cycle! One of the positions was won by 263 votes. … Pastors, be encouraged … your church can make a difference!”

Scarborough also noted that the newly elected conservative majority on the Katy school board passed a policy that “requires the use of pronouns based on the student’s biological sex and prohibits faculty and staff from teaching or using instructional materials relating to gender ideology.”

He concluded by encouraging his followers to use the CNP-affiliated iVoter Guide.

Even after such policies have been passed, pastors and activists aligned with the Remnant Alliance continue to show up to school board meetings and demand the removal of books. On February 5, the Remnant Alliance held a meeting at the Community Transformation Church in Houston, led by Pastor Richard Vega. On April 3, Vega endorsed the Remnant Alliance during a WallBuilders podcast with Green, the founder of Patriot Academy. That same month, Vega addressed the Katy school board.

“There’s probably 150 books, probably more, in your school district that need to go ahead and come out,” he said. “We’re willing to work with you guys and be able to give you that list, so you can start filtering through.”

Katy is one of the school boards that has been targeted by the Remnant Alliance. Another is Keller, where a newly elected conservative majority also adopted controversial bathroom and pronoun policies aimed at trans and nonbinary individuals in the district.

When the new conservative majority on the Keller school board passed the new bathroom and pronoun policies, Citizens Defending Freedom celebrated the victory.

“Thanks for the hard work and dedication of Citizens Defending Freedom members, along with True Texas Project and community members, a school district in Tarrant County has banned transgender bathrooms and the usage of pronouns that [do] not align with biological sex,” reads a July 2023 Citizens Defending Freedom post on X.

A November 29, 2023, rally at the Sandstone Mountain Ranch event center in Llano encapsulates the extent to which the Remnant Alliance overlaps with Republican Party power players on school board-related issues. Dubbed the “Protect Our Children Event,” the gathering featured multiple Remnant Alliance affiliates who spoke alongside Matt Rinaldi, the chairman of the Republican Party of Texas; Luke Macias, a Republican political consultant linked to Christian nationalist billionaire oilman Tim Dunn; and Kevin Roberts of the right-wing Heritage Foundation. One goal was to raise money for Llano County to fight a lawsuit brought against county officials that stemmed from the removal of 17 books from the public library, including one for teens that calls the Ku Klux Klan a terrorist group and another that describes racism in the United States as an aspect of a caste system. Another goal was to “educate those who attend to the types of harmful content readily available to children in public and school libraries.”

Some big-name pastors have also lent their support to the Remnant Alliance or embraced its member organizations. In January, the Second Baptist Church, the SBC-affiliated megachurch where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick recently called for pastors and their congregants to run for office, hosted a Remnant Alliance pastor meeting. In July 2023, Green, the former Texas state representative and founder of Patriot Academy, spoke at the annual summit for the ministry of Kenneth Copeland, the wealthiest pastor in America whose Flashpoint News show airs on a channel that reaches hundreds of millions of people.

Several Remnant Alliance organizations — Liberty Pastors, Patriot Academy, and Turning Point USA — have all directly partnered with Patriot Mobile, the Grapevine group that explicitly endorses school board candidates through its PAC, Patriot Mobile Action, and that created the far-right majority in Keller ISD. In 2022, Citizens Defending Freedom organized voter registration events, including one at Gateway Church in partnership with Glenn Story, the co-founder and president of Patriot Mobile who in December 2023 was recognized with the Salt and Light Award at the same National Association of Christian Lawmakers event attended by Speaker Johnson.

The Remnant Alliance also has managed to establish informal relationships with like-minded groups and pastors, like Fulmer at the Northside’s Mercy Culture Church, where state representative Nate Schatzline serves as a pastor. Mercy Culture has thousands of congregants and is a part of the expansive Gateway Church network, which has more than 100,000 attendees some Sundays.

On April 21, Schatzline led the congregation in prayer for “Friends and Family Candidates” supported by For Liberty and Justice Tarrant, a nonprofit that Schatzline also leads. The list, which promoted Keller school board candidates Randklev and Washington, among others, carried a disclaimer that says it is “not an endorsement” and that “these are candidates that are involved in their local church and share our values.”

Patriot Mobile also explicitly endorsed Randklev and Washington. The American Principles Project, which features a CNP member on the board of directors, endorsed Campbell and Olson in Katy. All four candidates have received endorsements from local Republican Party officials.

But the recent primary results show that the growing Remnant Alliance isn’t always able to succeed. In Keller, both Randklev and Washington won reelection, each beating their opponent by around 1,300 votes, but in Katy, both Donovan and Olson were unsuccessful in attempts to unseat incumbents, each losing by 13%.

“Hearing that these groups are coordinated and working together is unsurprising,” said Anne Russey, a parent with children in Katy public schools who co-founded the Texas Freedom to Read Project, which aims to counter efforts to restrict access to books in schools. “I think the formalization of those relationships is extremely concerning and something that all Texans should be paying attention to.”

 

A version of this story originally appeared in the Texas Observer as part of a series supported by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

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