Resolute Square

PragerU: A Far-Right Propaganda Machine Now In Florida Schools

PragerU delivers a toxic mix of conspiracy theories, racism, homophobia, anti-feminism, and neoliberalism, and is now part of DeSantis' Florida public school indoctrination plan
Published:August 1, 2023

Published with the generous permission of Ruth Ben-Ghiat. Read all of her outstanding writing in her Lucid newsletter.

By Ruth Ben-Ghiat

Did you know that "leftism" causes mental illness, and fossil fuels are the greenest form of energy? Are you aware that voter suppression is a myth, America is on the path to leftist totalitarianism, and teachers and professors are training students to become radical activists? I encountered these claims on the website of PragerU, an unaccredited right-wing propaganda company whose products have been approved for use in Florida classrooms.

PragerU delivers a steady flow of conspiracy theories, racism, homophobia, anti-feminism, and neoliberalism. This same toxic mix has supported many right-wing authoritarian states throughout history.

The revision of Black history curricula in Florida to further White supremacist goals is one outcome of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis's crusade against "wokeness." Slavery is described as a system that benefitted the enslaved by allowing them to learn new skills. Opening the door to PragerU is another. PragerU CEO Marissa Streit contends that the left has hijacked schools. There is considerable overlap between the spirit and substance of PragerU's "edutainment" and the curricula mandated by Florida's 2022 Stop WOKE Act.

I was drawn to investigate PragerU after participating in an important conversation on MSNBC with host Jonathan Capehart and Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV). As Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Horsford has requested that the Department of Justice and the Department of Education investigate whether Florida schools are violating federal laws against racial discrimination.

These developments in educational policy are part of a larger Republican "war on Blackness," as Rep. Horsford terms it. Racialized voter suppression and bans on diversity and inclusion training in the workplace work in tandem with book bans and curricular changes. In Florida and elsewhere, the ambition is not just to silence Blacks and erase their history, but also increase White hostility to Blacks. PragerU's products are weapons in this crusade.

Take the video "Playing the Black Card," narrated by far-right ideologue Candace Owens. It contrasts "good Blacks" like Owens with those who use their skin color to "game the system." The Black Card "will confer upon you an entire history of oppression —even if you've never been oppressed," Owens tells us. "Play the Black Card expertly and you can win awards, make millions, all the while claiming that the people who got you there somehow hate you." Owens raises the specter of the Black imposter and trickster —both old racist stereotypes— while denying the legitimacy of the history of Black oppression: it's all an act to get ahead, the film says.

Then there's the 2023 documentary Unwoke, Inc.. Billed as an innocent journey of intellectual exploration about wokeness, it presents a sinister and violent world that preys on young and older Americans. "How did this cancer affect every other area of society?" the young Black female narrator Amala Ekpunobi wonders as she travels the country to understand how the disease of wokeness has metastasized.

Still from the PragerU film “Unwoke, Inc.” The narrator, Amala Ekpunobi, is in the center, and Vivek Ramaswamy is to her right, along with others who are working for an “unwoke” future.

The earnest tone adopted by Ekpunobi, an engaging former leftist activist turned far-right militant, belies the film's content: this is virulent agitprop designed to inflame hatred. Blacks are targeted with footage that links Black Lives Matter to burning buildings and celebrities (we see NBA star LeBron James wearing a shirt that reads "I can't breathe," in support of protests about the grand jury decision not to indict the NYPD officer who put Eric Garner in a chokehold).

The movement for LGBTQ+ rights is presented as a tool of corporate America, in keeping with the propaganda advanced by Ron DeSantis and by Vivek Ramaswamy, the GOP presidential candidate who Ekpunobi interviews as an authority on wokeness (he wrote the book Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America's Social Justice Scam).

Ramaswamy calmly repeats the old right-wing message about the need to remove "politics" from education, but pure hatred toward teachers and professors pours out of Dr. Michael Farris, a lawyer and president of Patrick Henry College, an institution created as a far-right elite incubator "We're going to jam our truth down your throat and you better kneel," says Farris, summing up his view of the state of American education.

In "Unwoke, Inc.," educators are the foot soldiers doing the bidding of powerful individuals and institutions that are conspiring to take away American freedoms. These include Democratic lawmakers Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Nikole Hannah-Jones and the 1619 Project, transgender individuals, billionaires such as Bill Gates, the UN, George Soros, and the Centers for Disease Control.

All of them are part of a giant plot to destroy America by promoting wokeness, which is why Ekpunobi concludes that the only solution is to "find a way to end wokeism once and for all."

Significantly, we also see an image of the U.S. Capitol. The paranoid worldview of "Unwoke, Inc" recalls that of the propaganda film Trump showed at the Jan. 6 rally to inflame his supporters into assaulting that same building. 

With so many serious threats to our democracy right now, talking about PragerU's materials might seem trivial. Yet these are no fringe products. PragerU videos have collectively garnered more than a billion views, and half of the company's massive audience is under 35 years old.  

Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-FL), the youngest elected member of Congress, who serves on the Congressional Black Caucus, knows the stakes of mass indoctrination. "We have a far-right governor and Legislature that literally wants to erase us. The goal is to condition this generation to white supremacy, because they see this generation pushing against this far right-wing fascist ideology." PragerU is a propaganda operation dedicated to that goal.