David Barton wants you to know that America is a Christian nation. He has been making that point for two decades in speeches, books, pamphlets, and videos, in which he claims to unearth the forgotten history of the nation’s founding. He has, in the process, amassed a large and loyal following. But it is the praise lately showered upon him by presidential aspirants Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and Michele Bachmann that has brought him into the public eye.
In the last week, he has been featured on the front page of the New York Times and on the Daily Show. The week before, Mother Jones and Religion Dispatches took their shots, and People for the American Way updated its indictment.
Barton’s errors, exaggerations, and elisions have been exhaustively cataloged; no credible historian defends his work or his conclusions. And yet millions continue to find his message compelling. Why do they trust him?