The Claremont Institute, based in Claremont, California, is a conservative non-profit institution that houses a number of right-wing and militarist policy programs. The institute also employs a number of acolytes of Leo Strauss, the obscure political philosopher who inspired a number of neoconservative figures, including Irving Kristol.
According to its website, "The mission of the Claremont Institute is to restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. These principles are expressed most eloquently in the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims that 'all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.' To recover the founding principles in our political life means recovering a limited and accountable government that respects private property, promotes stable family life, and maintains a strong national defense."
Associated Claremont projects include the William Bennett-founded group Americans for Victory Over Terrorism, which was launched shortly after the 9/11 attacks to promote a interventionist U.S. "war on terror"; the Ballistic Missile Defense Project, which advocates lavish missile defense programs because "a robust and layered ballistic missile defense comprised of systems based on land, sea, air, and space has become an absolute necessity if we are to fulfill the constitutional duties to insure domestic tranquility and provide for the common defense"; the Salvatori Center for the American Constitution, which promotes "honest and patriotic scholarship about America"; and Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, described as "a group of health professionals familiar with guns and medical research [that serves as] the antidote to those who twist science to serve a misguided anti-gun ideology."
Claremont also publishes the Claremont Review of Books, a journal offering "bold arguments for a reinvigorated conservatism" by "draw[ing] upon the timeless principles of the American Founding and appl[ing] them to the moral and political problems we face today."
Claremont fellows and leaders as of 2010 included William Bennett, a "Washington fellow" who served as secretary of education in the Ronald Reagan administration; J.D. Crouch, a fellow at the institute who served as deputy national security advisor in the George W. Bush administration; well known Straussian scholar Harry Jaffa, a distinguished fellow; Laurence Kadish, a board member and the founding chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition and supporter of several neoconservative groups, including the Hudson Institute; Brian T. Kennedy, Claremont's president; and Tom Karako and Seth Leibsohn, both Claremont fellows who also serve as advisers to Americans for Victory Over Terrorism.
During the 2010 mid-term elections, Claremont received attention in connection to the rise of the Tea Party movement. Tea Party Senate candidate, the Delaware Republican Christine O'Donnell, participated in a Claremont fellowship program in 2002. Another failed Republican Senate candidate and Tea Party favorite, Sharon Angle, received Claremont's Ronald Reagan Freedom Medallion for Courageous Clientin 2004.
In an article about the Tea party published in the Claremont Review of Books, William Voegeli wrote, "The Tea Party movement … has a natural affinity with, if you'll permit a parochial observation, the Claremont Institute, which antedates the movement by 30 years, and was created to restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. This orientation means the Tea Party movement has the potential to be a vessel for a conservatism committed to conserving political blessings that are unqualifiedly American. What's more, implicit in the project of the political restoration of a rightful authority is the identification and defeat of the ideas and practices that have wrongfully usurped those founding principles. To this end, scholars such as Ronald J. Pestritto and Matthew Spalding, both Claremont Institute fellows, have painstakingly shown how 19th-century progressivism made 20th- and 21st-century liberalism both possible and dangerous."
Missilethreat.com, the website for Claremont's Ballistic Missile Defense Project, offers a number of pages aimed at hyping purported missile threats facing the United States. One page, titled "Scenarios," features brief video clips showing "textual descriptions and animations" of how an enemy could attack America and how U.S. missile interceptors might defend against them. One scenario, titled "Ship-Based Attack on Hollywood," opens with a quote from the so-called Rumsfeld Missile Commission, a congressionally mandated 1998 investigation led by Donald Rumsfeld that was heavily criticized by many arms control experts for exaggerating the ballistic missile threat to the United States. Pointing out that there are thousands of ships entering and exiting U.S. waters everyday, anyone of which "could be equipped to launch a ballistic missile," the film proceeds to show an animated hypothetical Scud missile attack on Hollywood—"a high profile symbol of American popular culture"—from a ship stationed off the coast of California. The clip concludes: "Because of political opposition at home and abroad, it is by no means certain that a missile defense will be built before such an attack occurs."
Advisers to the missile defense project include Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, Hank Cooper of High Frontier, and William Van Cleave of Missouri State University's Department of Defense and Strategic Studies.
Claremont served as a sponsoring institution of the 2006 "Independent Working Group on Missile Defense, the Space Relationship, and the 21st Century," a task force of militarist foreign policy ideologues whose final report claimed that the 21st century maintenance of the "U.S. lead in space may indeed be pivotal to the basic geopolitical, military, and economic status of the United States. Consolidation of the preeminent U.S. position in space is akin to Britain's dominance of the oceans in the 19th century." Other sponsors of the task force included the American Foreign Policy Council, Missouri State University's Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, the George C. Marshall Institute, Heritage, High Frontier, and the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis. As missile defense expert Theresa Hitchens wryly commented: "'Independent Working Group' is, therefore, a bit of a misnomer."
According to writer Tom Barry, task force members and sponsors included "many key figures and institutions that advocate a more aggressive nuclear weapons and space weapons policy, including the four sectors of the space weapons lobby: defense contractors (including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Assured Space Access Technologies), think tanks and policy institutes (including the Hoover Institution), former military (including the Air Force Space Command), and university research institutes (including Tufts and MIT)."
Claremont and the Ashbrook Center co-sponsored the now defunct website, VindicatingTheFathers.com. The site was designed to accompany the book by the same title, authored by Thomas G. West and published by Rowman & Littlefield in 1997. According to the website, the book provided a "defense of the Founders' views and actions on slavery, women's rights, property rights, voting rights, and other controversial issues." The website was created "to make available to the public an extensive collection of original historical documents on the themes of this book. These documents provide evidence from original sources in support of the book's arguments."
A Library Journal review said the book aimed "to defend the U.S. Constitution and the men who drafted it in 1787 from the accusations of sexism, racism, and prejudice against the poor. West writes from a conservative perspective, and, as he frequently pauses to remind the reader, his arguments are learned and logical. However, this is a deeply flawed book. West writes in a supercilious and dismissive tone. Worse, he digresses far afield to introduce his ideas on contemporary issues, which have almost nothing to do with the founders; his chapter on the family is simply a compendium of current conservative views and he rarely mentions the founders, who said and wrote little on the subject."
Claremont has received considerable support from core conservative funders. According to MediaTransparency.com, between 1985 and 2005, Claremont received nearly $10 million in donations from Scaife, Bradley, Olin, and Earhart foundations.