Yesterday we flashed back to 2002, when most members of the New York City Council chose to boycott a City Hall speech and reception by the Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe; but Bill de Blasio, now Mayor of New York, didn’t. He stayed. He attended. One assumes he applauded at the end of Mugabe’s speech. Years later, presumably for reasons of political expediency, he – or one of his flunkies – decided that it was a good idea for him to apologize for having shown up to honor the Zimbabwean despot; but it’s not as if de Blasio didn’t know at the time who the man was and what he stood for. (Then again, the mayor deserves full marks for ideological consistency: back in the day, he also supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and honeymooned in Havana.)
How, you might wonder, did Mugabe ever come to be honored at New York’s City Hall in the first place? The answer: Charles Barron, a former Black Panther member who spent twelve years in the City Council, and then, after making unsuccessful runs for mayor, governor, and the U.S. Congress, won the election last year to succeed his wife, Inez, in the New York State Assembly. Barron, described by the New York Observer as “among the most flamboyant and inflammatory figures on the New York political scene,” is notorious for his virulently anti-white and anti-Semitic rhetoric, and has been arrested and jailed several times for acts of harassment, disorderly conduct, and criminal trespass, all carried out in the guise of civil-rights activism. It was Barron who, back in 2002, arranged for Mugabe to be fêted at City Hall.
Does he now have regrets? Far from it. In September, Barron told the Observer that now that he’s living in Albany and serving in the state legislature, he “would love” to host a visit by Mugabe to the state capital. “I would love for him to come anywhere in the United States, really,” Barron added, calling Mugabe a “freedom fighter” and a “shining example of an African leader on the African continent.” Far from being disturbed by Mugabe’s distribution to black Zimbabweans of farmland seized from whites for purely racist reasons, Barron explained that he considered this policy especially admirable. “He was one of the few African leaders who had the courage to take the land back from the settlers,” said Barron, who went on to fault Nelson Mandela for not taking away more property from white South Africans.
Like de Blasio, Barron is consistent. He’s a fan of the Castros, a defender of Hamas; when Qaddafi was alive, Barron admired him, too. “All my heroes were America’s enemies,” he has helpfully explained. Moreover, as Michael Moynihan observed in a 2012 profile, Barron
is obsessively hostile to Israel—a country whose founding he rejects as historical crime. After a 2009 trip to Gaza with British MP George Galloway’s anti-Israel group Viva Palestina, Barron told reporters that the Gaza Strip was a giant “concentration camp.” Considering this description a touch understated, he traded Dachau for Auschwitz, comparing the Palestinian territories to a modern “death camp.” Israel, he added, “deliberately cause[s] the death of innocent children” and is guilty of “genocide.”
Moynihan summed up Barron’s politics as consisting of “a deep illiberalism and contempt for democracy, an almost pathological hatred of Israel and fondness for dictatorship.” Yep, that pretty much says it.