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The Education of Michele Bachmann

Where the Minnesota Republican's conspiratorial views about government come from.

| Thu Jun. 16, 2011 3:43 PM EDT

Among the Evangelical Christians who formed Bachmann's Minnesota base, the threat of global government is loaded with religious connotations. In the best-selling End Times series Left Behind, the Antichrist—in the form of a smooth-talking United Nations Secretary General—unites the world in a one-world state following the Rapture. Among many Evangelical Christians, globalism is a force for evil. (Bachmann has previously attended conferences devoted to Biblical prophecy and credits Beverly LaHaye, the wife of the Left Behind co-creator, with inspiring her to enter politics.)

One MREC supporter told Minnesota Public Radio in 1999 that the curriculum standard "fits very well with what the word of God tells us is happening, for we are living in the last days, and there will be a one-world government." (He was not speaking for the group.)

Karen Effrem, a long-time board member of MREC, emphasizes that the group was not religious in nature, however. "Nothing that Maple River did was dealing with End Times anything or with religious discussions," she says. It was, according to her, purely a constitutional question: Who should determine the content of local curricula?

Ultimately, through the efforts of Bachmann and her allies, the Profile was repealed. After facing fierce pressure from social conservatives during the state GOP's nominating convention, Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed an education commissioner who quickly set about developing a new set of standards, and invited MREC members to participate. The process was a mess; during one meeting, a committee member struck a reference to sharing in the kindergarten curriculum because she considered it too "socialist." After a fierce backlash, the state senate ultimately chose not to confirm Pawlenty's education commissioner, Cheri Yecke.

"It's part of Satan, I think, to say that this is 'gay,'" Bachmann warned. "It's anything but 'gay.'"

Bachmann's relationship with Maple River was for the most part mutually beneficial. She lent her energy and considerable rhetorical gifts to the cause; the group, meanwhile, provided an entry point into the social conservative grassroots networks that would launch her into office. In interviews at the time, she attributed her surprising success at the polls to groups like MREC.

When the group, which by that point had rebranded itself as EdWatch and begun to expand its reach into other states, held its national convention in 2004, the charismatic state senator was a natural choice to deliver the keynote address. This time, the focus wasn't on encroaching United Nations tyranny; it was on a threat of a different sort. In a 45-minute speech, Bachmann tackled the specter of the gay agenda in public schools. She alleged that teachers were indoctrinating students in homosexuality and encouraging children to give it a try. Even the word itself—"gay"—was an issue. "It's part of Satan, I think, to say that this is 'gay,'" she warned. "It's anything but 'gay.'"

Even Pawlenty, then the state's Republican governor and currently one of Bachmann's top rivals for the 2012 nomination, wasn't immune to the group's scathing criticism: "Under Governor Pawlenty's supervision, his administration is actively promoting the indoctrination of students into a homosexual worldview and value system," it warned in an open letter in 2006.

When Bachmann went to Washington, DC, she took Maple River/EdWatch with her. Julie Quist, a former MREC board member, went on to take a job as Bachmann's district director; Renee Doyle, the former school board member who founded the organization, currently works in the congresswoman's Washington office. The group closed up shop last December, but Effrem simultaneously launched a new organization, Education Liberty Watch, whose mission is more or less the same.

Bachmann's war on the Profile of Learning is nearly a decade old at this point, but laid a foundation for her approach to politics that continues today. Her subsequent campaigns against "One World currency" and sustainable development (famously fretting that progressive policymakers wanted all Americans to live in urban "tenements") reflect a latent and long-standing fear of globalism that stretches at least as far back as the debate over the standards. It's the product of a coherent, if controversial worldview that's been honed by her years as a grassroots activist. (Bachmann did not respond to an interview request.)

"The Michele Bachmann you see today is exactly the Michele Bachmann I met 12 years ago; she has not changed one iota," says her former school board rival Cecconi. "Consistency is her middle name. That's the quality that people read in her from the back of the room."

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