When we last left David Barton, the Religious Right’s favorite pseudo-historian and “Christian nation” advocate , he was under fire for claiming that he had played on a record-setting basketball team at Oral Roberts University (ORU) in the mid- 1970s.
Warren Throckmorton, a prominent Barton critic and a psychology professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, was skeptical of the claim. He called ORU. Officials at the school said they had no record of anyone named David Barton ever playing basketball there.
Now Barton is back with another startling assertion from his college days: He claims that he served as a translator for the Russian National Gymnastics Team in 1976. Once again, Throckmorton did some digging. Once again, there is ample reason to believe that Barton is telling tall tales.
Throckmorton learned that Barton did take a basic course in Russian at ORU, but it was hardly the type of class that would have led to fluency in a difficult language.
A Russian gymnastics team did tour the United States after the 1976 Olympics. But they did not visit ORU or any cities in Oklahoma, and Throckmorton found that the team brought its own translators.
Perhaps Barton was thinking of some other type of Russian sports team? As it turns out, a Russian trampoline team did come to Oral Roberts University in July of 1976 as part of an international competition. It was also accompanied by its own translators. Remember, this was during the Cold War. There is no way the Soviets were going to risk a defection by using translators provided by the United States.
Throckmorton tracked down Leigh Robson, an American who performed in that event. She bluntly said, “Rest assured, David Barton did not translate Russian at the 1976 World Trampoline and Tumbling Championships at ORU.”
Throckmorton has not proved definitively that Barton didn’t do some Russian translating at some point, but from the evidence he has compiled, it seems highly unlikely that Barton did any translating in an official capacity. (Barton now claims that while he was once fluent in Russian, he no longer is. How convenient!)
I am really starting to wonder about this guy. Although I strongly disagree with Barton’s fake history, I can understand why he peddles it. Barton uses it to motivate fundamentalist Christians and convince them that the great and glorious “Christian nation” that was created for them has been stolen by evil liberals and secularists.
The “Christian nation” story is false, but it can be a powerful force to convince people to vote for candidates favored by Barton and other Religious Right leaders, and it can spur people to take part in other forms of activism.
But the other claims Barton is making these days are just strange, and, as we have seen, are easily debunked – especially in the age of the internet.
Most of us have known people who love to spin yarns. Some do it to entertain family and friends with colorful tales that we all know are highly embellished but are still fun to hear. No harm there.
Other people seem to lie repeatedly in ways that are not benign, that are, in fact, annoying. You want to roll your eyes as soon as they start talking because you know they’re pushing another fantasy. You can’t trust a person like that.
Why do they do it? Maybe to make themselves feel more important than they are or to persuade someone to trust in them. For these people, a failure to tell the truth becomes pathology.
I’m not qualified to diagnose Barton. I’ll leave that to Throckmorton, who is a professor of psychology. I do know that, based on Barton’s record, anything this man says – and I mean anything – must be taken with several grains of salt.
It’s great that Throckmorton and others are holding Barton accountable for these fantastic claims. What’s not great is that no one in the Religious Right seems to care.