No, Neil Gorsuch did not start a ‘Fascism Forever’ club at his Jesuit high school

Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch listens at left as Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch listens at left as Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

As a student at the tony, Jesuit-run Georgetown Preparatory School, Neil Gorsuch, the son of a Reagan administration official, was known as something of a conservative firebrand among the mostly center-left student body and faculty.

In the 1980s, students at the D.C.-area boarding school spent the minutes before student government meetings hashing out the political debates of the day.

Advertisement

Mr. Gorsuch, who was nominated on Jan. 31 to the Supreme Court by President Donald J. Trump, participated in the informal debates, where he was routinely teased, accused of being “a conservative fascist.” No shrinking violet, he would shoot back, taking on the liberal ethos of the school and even arguing with religion teachers about the liberal theological trends in vogue at the time.

Political differences aside, Mr. Gorsuch was popular and respected, excelling at debate and being elected student body president.

When it came time to write his senior biography for the yearbook, he would make light of the divide between his conservative political beliefs and those of the more liberal faculty and students.

 

 

He wrote that he founded and led the “Fascism Forever Club,” though those with knowledge of the school back in the 1980s say there was no such club. The mention of it in the yearbook was a tongue-in-cheek attempt to poke fun at liberal peers who teased him about his fierce conservatism.

It was “a total joke,” said Steve Ochs, a history teacher at Georgetown Prep who was the student government advisor during Mr. Gorsuch’s junior and senior years at the Bethesda, Md., school.

“There was no club at a Jesuit school about young fascists,” he told America. “The students would create fictitious clubs; they would have fictitious activities. They were all inside jokes on their senior pages.”

(The yearbook’s mention of the club is not the only item on Mr. Gorsuch’s profile that is raising eyebrows in some circles: A sarcastic quote from Henry Kissinger about how to get away with unconstitutional activities appears in both his prep school yearbook as well as his Columbia University yearbook.)

Now as Mr. Gorsuch readies himself for what promises to be intense questioning from Democratic senators still upset that former President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court was never given a hearing, a bipartisan group of his prep school classmates are urging that he be confirmed.

“We are doctors, lawyers, lobbyists, businessmen, bankers, brokers, investors, consultants, government workers, entrepreneurs and, yes, the General Manager of a Major League Baseball team that has won the most World Series Championships in history,” reads a letter drafted by members of Mr. Gorsuch’s 1985 prep school class to be mailed to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“We are prominent and active Democrats, Republicans, Independents, liberals, conservatives and moderates,” continues the letter, signed by about 70 of Mr. Gorsuch’s 90 or so classmates. “Most important, however, we have been friends with Neil Gorsuch for over 35 years, and he has not changed since we chose him to be the president of our student body.”

Stating that Mr. Gorsuch would serve “without any regard to the pursuit of any partisan policy or objective” and that he possesses “knowledge, integrity and a strong appreciation that his decisions will impact real people,” the letter urges the Senate Judiciary Committee to “give Judge Gorsuch the chance for approval by the full Senate.”

For its part, Georgetown Prep also appears to be proud of its alumnus.

In a statement from the president released on Jan. 31, Scott R. Pilarz, S.J., said, “We are proud to have a son of Georgetown Preparatory School, a Catholic, Jesuit school founded the same year the United States Supreme Court was established, nominated to the nation's highest court. All of us at Prep send our prayers and best wishes."

Mr. Trump promised repeatedly during his campaign that he would appoint a nominee in the mold of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. By many accounts, Mr. Gorsuch fulfills that promise. He has sided with groups that sued the Obama administration, including the Little Sisters of the Poor who said their religious liberty had been violated, and he has written extensively against physician-assisted suicide.

Some liberal organizations have expressed concern over Mr. Gorsuch, saying his past decisions have favored corporations over people. And although Mr. Gorsuch has not ruled on any major cases related to abortion, pro-choice advocates fear that he may chip away at laws permitting abortion.

Dr. Ochs, the student government advisor, called Mr. Gorsuch “a very brilliant guy” who even as a teenager “had that ability to be dispassionate about things.”

“He had that great gift of removing his emotion from the situation and looking at facts,” he recalled. “He didn’t let emotion cloud him; he was a great debater.”

When the pair reconnected in 2015 for Mr. Gorsuch’s prep school reunion, Dr. Ochs noticed that the judge did not engage in that most D.C. of party behaviors, always looking over the shoulder of one’s conversation partner.

“When he engages you, you’re the only game in town,” he said. More than 30 years after graduation, he said Mr. Gorsuch still “makes it a point to send notes to guys if he hears about a passing of a parent or if somebody’s been ill.”

As for concerns about Mr. Gorsuch’s purported early fascination with fascism, Dr. Ochs said the snippet in the yearbook—which he noted, for the record, he was not pleased that the yearbook editor let it be published—harkens back to a bygone era.

“There were some teachers who were ultra-liberal, and he would spar with them in class, like in religion class specifically, I remember, but always in good nature,” he recalled. “It sounds so strange today, when you can’t say boo without people going crazy, but it was all very good natured.

“There were some teachers who really didn’t like Reagan, and this is not appropriate, but they would challenge him and he’d come right back at them. He didn’t have any problem with that,” he continued. “He was an unassailably courteous kid, very popular with his class.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Tim O'Leary
8 months 2 weeks ago

A great article. Solidly puts to rest the fake fascist meme. But it also shows how far we have come in accepting the intolerance of political correctness, where a satirical joke sets the blogosphere hate machine alight. The quote above tells it all: “It sounds so strange today, when you can’t say boo without people going crazy."

I am also pleasantly surprised with the politically diverse graduates of Georgetown Prep coming to the defense of Gorsuch. Perhaps, the Jesuits are doing a much better job in the high schools than I have given them credit for.

Henry George
8 months 2 weeks ago

Is there nothing that you can say or do in your youth, mis-spent or not,
that will not be dragged up and blown up by the Media ?

J Cosgrove
8 months 2 weeks ago

What is a fascist?

The answer for some people is anybody they do not like is a fascist.

All fascists have been on the left economically but are nationalist. It is hard to imagine a fascist government that is also free market so one could call them socialist or socialist like who are pro nation but have a strong authoritarian leader. This was originally to distinguish them from the communist who were supposed to be internationalists. But in reality all communists were nationalistic too so all communist were also fascists.

Anybody that uses the term to refer to current politics is revealing something about themselves than they are about the person or system they are complaining about.

Stanley Kopacz
8 months 2 weeks ago

Call it what you want, Gorsuch's function will be to solidify the corporate coup that has overtaken the country. But, in the meantime, he probably likes doggies, too, so what's to worry about.

Richard Doerflinger
8 months 2 weeks ago

Oh no! Not a future Supreme Court justice who, even at a young age, was capable of self-deprecating humor! The Gorsuch nomination is by far the best thing Mr. Trump has done so far. (And yes, I know some of my fellow readers will say that is not a high bar.)

Mike Evans
8 months 2 weeks ago

Gorsuch strikes me as ideologically a clone of Trump and his approach to a huge number of issues. While the church may want him to overturn Roe vs. Wade and the contraceptive mandate of the ACA, both are highly unlikely. And the loyalty to Trump and his own super conservative, even reactionary attitudes toward freedoms, government programs, and respect for diversity in our culture seem very questionable and even disqualifying. Young or not, his teen attitudes seem unchanged and even how hardened today. Please vote NO!

Akashdeep Sandhu
8 months 2 weeks ago

First off Neil Gorsuch is NOT a Catholic, he is a Protestant, and an avowed Episcopalian. So he does not answer to the Church. He has yet to rule on abortion, but he is a strong believer in the religious liberty so he voted for Hobby Lobby, and Evangelical store, and Little Sisters of the Poor to not have to cover contraception for those under it. He is well qualified, an orginalist, a textualist, and a true Jeffersonian who believes there should be more checks on the Executive Branch(led by Trump) he is much more similar to Scalia, than he is to Trump, he takes emotion, and political bias out of his decision, he will rule against Trump if what he is doing is unconstitutional, in the words of the constitution. Everything you said about reactionary attitudes, and respect for diversity is simply slander, people who have met him personally as someone who isn't that overarching conservative, who respects other views. He is a very mature, and well qualified, pick that is going to pass, even if the senate needs cloture. The senate WILL vote YES!

K Kloet
8 months 2 weeks ago

Good article, first time I have come across this website. I think Gorsuch would be a proper and respectable SCOTUS judge, especially because of his tongue-in-cheek remarks when he was younger. Be more suspicious of people that have always been very aware of what they should say to further some social agenda, than of man that has said some 'wild' things to provoke the rigid people around him. Everyone is ultraliberal? Then joke about the Fascist Forever Club. Come on, that's just poking some fun at the educational establishment. I will come back here and check out some articles and see what you guys are publishing.

Robert Millsap
8 months 2 weeks ago

I am an Episcopalian, myself, and have always felt that we were under-represented on the Supreme Court, especially since from a religious standpoint we don't stand for much of anything except possibly social standing. As for that "Fascism Forever Club" thing, sounds like typical upper class locker room talk to me. And we all know not to pay any attention to that. All of which tells me he probably has no empathy whatsoever for anyone worse off than himself. He'd have my vote. We rich kids need to stick together.

J Cosgrove
8 months 2 weeks ago

This article has made the round of conservative sites and has been referenced to offset the typical fake news put out by some of the liberal media. So Mr. O'Loughlin is part of effort to expose some Main Stream News fake news.

Ironic!!

Vince Killoran
8 months 2 weeks ago

My wife and I read Snopes.com each day for the debunking of these fake news stories. Some are silly ("Can the Queen Legally Kill Trump with a Sword") and others are proof that serious policy is being decided on the basis of false information ("Kellyanne Conway References Non-Existent 'Bowling Green Massacre' as Reason for Entry Restrictions").

J Cosgrove
8 months 2 weeks ago

She was essentially correct. There was no Bowling Green massacre but there was a Bowling Green incident were Iraqi terrorists who were admitted on the refugee program were living in Bowling Green, KY. I had never heard of it nor had there been much news about it in recent years. The whole thing is about getting Kellyanne Conway and through her Trump on a technicality. But the real news is that Iraqi refugees we admitted were terrorists. Nearly all admitted were not and were no problem but we have admitted active terrorists and an example was the Bowling Green incident.

http://abcn.ws/2l4LLtw

Tim O'Leary
8 months 2 weeks ago

The Media is purposefully trying to discredit Kellyanne Conway for an honest misstatement. On twitter, she said she meant to say Bowling Green "terrorists" and not "massacre." But, none of the media are reporting on her correction.

Vince Killoran
8 months 2 weeks ago

"The Media"? I don't know what this means. Do you mean the big media outfits, .e.g, CBS, NBC, Fox, MSNBC, right-wing talk radio, NYT, Wall Street Journal? I think you mean just the big media outlets on the center-left.

An "honest misstatement" is okay, but I am wary of someone in such a powerful position who has promoted the bogus notion of "alternate facts." It wouldn't pass in any classroom in the nation, would it?

J Cosgrove
8 months 2 weeks ago

the bogus notion of "alternate facts." It wouldn't pass in any classroom in the nation, would it?.

It should be a good class room exposure of the way false news gets generated by the press. Kellyanne Conway was the person that was correct. Chuck Todd was wrong about the crowd size. It was like saying it was 35 degrees yesterday in Cleveland. Chuck said I have a thermometer photo saying it was 30 degrees so you are lying. Yes it was 30 degrees at 10 AM but at 1 PM it was 35 degrees. I have a photo of that.

Part of what Kellyanne Conway was skewering Chuck Todd with was the "alternative facts" also meant Todd was focusing on a trivial thing when large issues were being neglected. She essentially made a fool of Chuck Todd with her "alternative facts."

There was no way to judge the actual attendance since no one counts it but the false photos put out by main stream press outlets are prima facie evidence of fake news when later photos contradict them. In total, with on line streaming, it is possible Trump's inauguration was watched by more than was Obama's first one. No one will ever know exactly. Obama probably had a slightly bigger crowd size, a bigger Nielsen rating but Trump had the largest internet streaming event in history. Also Trump's crowd size was affected by the fact that his supporters lived hundreds to a thousand miles away while Obama's supporters lived in the District and suburban Washington. The early crowd size was affected by protesters denying entrance to the mall.

Bradley Williams
8 months 2 weeks ago

Amending Colorado's Prop 106 is sorely needed (and OR,WA,CA). The initiative was bought for $8,000,000 of deception. Even as they proclaimed that the poison must be self administered they did not provide for an ordinary witness. The difference is that without a witness it allows forced euthanasia but with a witness they would up hold individual choice.

Amendments would include requiring a witness to the self administration, restore the illegality of falsifying the death certificate require the posting of the poison applied in the medical record for the sake of good stewardship for future studies, register organ/tissue trafficking, reveal commissions and memorials paid to the corporate facilitators and keep all records for transparent public safety policy.
Bradley Williams
President
MTaas

Jeff Olson
8 months 2 weeks ago

I'm sure a bipartisan group of Merrick Garland's former classmates would argue that he be confirmed as well.

Stephen Johnson
8 months 2 weeks ago

I'm hopeful that Gorsuch will be a good justice; I'm reading his book now on assisted suicide. I did want to correct the incorrect information conveyed by a previous commenter: the comparison photos taken by Reuters were taken at the same time relative to the taking of the inaugural oath for both the Trump ceremony and the Obama ceremony and at the same angle. Not only that, but the Metro ridership figures also support the conclusion that the Trump inaugural drew a substantially smaller crowd than the Obama one. Now that can be explained by factors that don't reflect on Mr. Trump -- the region surrounding DC is much more hospitable to Obama than to Trump, for instance, but to argue that there wasn't a significant difference is just to put forth fake news in the real sense of the term.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

It is astonishing to think that God would choose to enter the world this way: as a fragile newborn who could not even hold up his own head without help.
Ginny Kubitz MoyerOctober 20, 2017
Protestors rally to support Temporary Protected Status near the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Sept. 26. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
Around 200,000 Salvadorans and 57,000 Hondurans have been residing in the United States for more than 15 years under Temporary Protected Status. But that status is set to expire in early 2018.
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 20, 2017
At the heart of Anne Frank’s life and witness is a hopeful faith in humanity.
Leo J. O'Donovan, S.J.October 20, 2017
Forensic police work on the main road in Bidnija, Malta, which leads to Daphne Caruana Galizias house, looking for evidence on the blast that killed the journalist as she was leaving her home, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. Caruana Galizia, a harsh critic of Maltese Premier Joseph Muscat, and who reported extensively on corruption on Malta, was killed by a car bomb on Monday. (AP Photo/Rene Rossignaud)
Rarely does the death of a private citizen elicit a formal letter of condolence from the Pope.