Here’s a joke for you, dear TSL reader: What do you get when you cross a Reagan-era conservative think tank with neo-fascist conspiracy theorists and homophobic lawyers? The Claremont Institute! What’s that? You’ve never heard of the Claremont Institute? Well, you’re not alone — of all of my hundreds of friends I talked to while writing this article, only a few had. So, what is the Claremont Institute? Why should you care about it? What do they have to do with us? And what should we do about it?
The Claremont Institute is a hugely influential conservative think tank. They are known for providing the most widely-used ‘intellectual’ justifications for Trumpism. They have influence over powerful conservative figures including Ron DeSantis, Tom Cotton, Clarence Thomas, Christopher Rufo (the inventor of the Critical Race Theory panic), and of course Donald Trump himself. In other words, the Claremont Institute is an immensely impactful political organization.
The best way for me to communicate the nature of the Institute is to offer a few examples of the people they associate with. John Eastman, the lawyer behind the theory that Mike Pence could overturn the 2020 election, is a senior fellow at the Institute, and was supported by them both before and after January 6th. Eastman also famously fought against the legalization of gay marriage. Jack Posobiec, the man behind the ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theory that asserted that Hillary Clinton and other top Democratic officials ran a child sex trafficking ring out of a D.C. pizzaria, is involved with the institute, as is The ‘Raw Egg Nationalist’, an internet persona known for his affiliation to the neo-Nazi group ‘Antelope Hill Publishing’. The Institute is also, somewhat unsurprisingly, quite the boys club — only 3 out of their 43 fellows are women, and none of them are senior fellows.
What might say even more about the Claremont Institute than the individuals it platforms are the beliefs expressed in its name. There have been countless articles published waging war on queer teachers and gay boy scout leaders, arguing against democracy, and supporting conversion therapy. Their mission, as stated by their president Ryan Williams, is to ‘defend Western Civilization’ — a transparent dog whistle.
More importantly than how powerful or disgusting they are, you should care about the Claremont Institute because it is associated with you. Although all 7Cs maintain that they have no ties to the Institute, the Claremont Colleges are not widely known outside of California and, to many Americans, the striking name resemblance can be confusing. Even a TSL article about the Institute made sure to connect Claremont McKenna College and Claremont Graduate University to the institute — noting that the institute was founded by CGU faculty.
However, there are still connections that remain between the Institute and the 7Cs, specifically with CMC. Three CMC government professors, Joseph M. Bessette, Mark Blitz, and Charles Kesler continue to work at the institute. Professors Bessette and Blitz are fellows, and Professor Kesler is a senior fellow.
This connection of a think tank to a school is not uncommon — many think tanks are started by professors who work together. But the Claremont Institute is not a normal think tank: their values and platformed beliefs are extremely far outside of anything any of the 7Cs seek to associate themselves with. A quick browse through the stated values of the colleges reveals words like ‘civil discourse, inclusivity, sustainability, community, social responsibility, and impact’. The Institute does not reflect a single core value of any of the schools and is not representative, in any way, of any significant philosophical movement among the faculty, administration, or student body of any of the colleges.
As a set of small schools we must acknowledge that our small reputation risks association with bad actors such as the Claremont Institute. Combatting that association cannot be a passive process — it requires active combat against the Institution. My proposal? We should demand that the colleges, especially CMC, openly renounce the institute for what it is: an organization that platforms intellectual movements that oppose everything we stand for.
Rowan Gray CM ‘26 is from Sharon, Massachusetts. He wants you to know that all Oxford commas in this piece were violently deleted by his copy editors.