A conservative think tank, co-founded by chain-store billionaire and former State Budget Director Art Pope, put up a new website last week called Mapping the Left.

The stated aim of the site is to shed light on a “vast, shadowy network” of “the radical liberal left in North Carolina.”

Brian Thornburg is a media technician at the Friday Center. He said he’s disappointed that he apparently didn’t rate a mention on the Mapping the Left website created by the Civitas Institute.

So he, along with many others, signed a change.org petition, to request being added. Is he Spartacus?

“You know what?” he said with a laugh. “I am Spartacus.”

In the spirit of that petition, which appeared soon after the Mapping the Left website went up on Jan. 22, Thornburg said he thinks that humor is the best response.

“I think a lot of people are looking at it as a point of pride that they are recognized in this particular website,” said Thornburg. “If you are seen there, then you must be doing something right.”

Persons and organizations who do rate being mapped for their supposed shadowy left-wing activities include retired UNC basketball coach Dean Smith, for his support of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty; and the N.C. Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Monika Johnson-Hostler is executive director of the N.C. Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She first heard from WCHL about the organization’s inclusion on the website.

When informed that it seems to be based on funding from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, as well as a connection to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, Johnson-Hostler said that there’s nothing “shadowy” about that, nor is there anything “shadowy” about the NCCASA’s recent set of initiatives.

“It includes things like looking at sex-offender management,” said Johnson-Hostler. “We supported the Anti Human Trafficking Commission and the Safe Harbor Bill last year, which of course, had huge bipartisan support.”

North Carolina’s Safe Harbor/Victims of Human Trafficking bill of 2013 was co- sponsored by Republican Senators Thom Goolsby and Tamara Barringer, and Democratic Sen. Ellie Kinnaird of Orange County. It passed unanimously in both chambers and was signed into law that year by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation’s chart on the Mapping the Left website shows the organization connected to around 70 others. The foundation’s former executive director, Tom Ross, came under attack in a Civitas Review Online post titled “Tom Ross Revealed: An Agent of Far-Left Change.”

Citing an interview Ross gave to the Triad Business Journal in 2002, the Civitas article criticizes Ross for “backing progressive public policy,” while also questioning his job as UNC System president.

Ross was recently forced out of that job by the UNC Board of Governors, with scant explanation. The BoG’s chairman, John Fennebresque, has insisted the decision was not political.

Susan Myrick, an elections policy analyst for the Civitas Institute, insists that the timing of the Mapping the Left website has no connection to Ross’s recent ouster.

“Oh my, no,” she said. “This work on this website has been going on for several years now.”

She said the site is meant to educate the public about the vast left-wing network in North Carolina, thus disproving, she said, any notion that there is some kind of right-wing conspiracy in the state.

“We knew all along that there was a really large left-wing network of organizations,” said Myrick. “And over the years, we saw it grow and grow. And then we started watching it work together so well.”

WCHL asked Myrick how Dean Smith and the N.C. Coalition Against Sexual Assault figure in this alleged network. Myrick had this to say:

“It is interesting to find these organizations that you think have the righteous mission, such as the Coalition Against Sexual Assault, or the Coalition Against Domestic Violence,” said Myrick. “You find out that they are political in nature.”

Leslie Winner, the current executive director of Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, said her organization is proud to invest in strong public schools; building local communities and economies; and making it easy for citizens to vote.

“I think that Civitas has an odd definition of the left,” said Winner. “Included in the Z. Smith Reynolds list of left-wing funding was a grant to the Triangle Community Foundation for a Disaster Relief Guide for North Carolina.

“I never knew that disaster relief was a lefty cause.”