Playing tunes, calling for bloodbaths: Rage against the Machine

As we reported on Monday, the veteran rock band Rage against the Machine is going on tour next month, making this the perfect occasion for an overview of the band’s politics. We’ve already taken a look at Rage’s afición for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, which exercises administrative authority over much of the Mexican state of Chiapas.

Rage on SNL

But like every good revolutionary rock group, Rage not only loves but hates. Unsurprisingly, it hates America. The title of its triple-platinum 1996 album Evil Empire, as frontman Zack de la Rocha acknowledged at the time, is a reference to “Ronald Reagan’s slander of the Soviet Union in the eighties, which the band feel could just as easily apply to the United States.” At Woodstock 1999, the band set fire to an American flag. When the band was scheduled to appear on Saturday Night Live in April 1996, its roadies hung two upside-down American flags from the amplifiers seconds before the band was about to play its first song, only to see the flags pulled down instantly by stagehands. When the song was over, the show’s producer cancelled the band’s scheduled second number and threw the guys out of the building. According to a statement issued by the band at the time, bassist Tim Commerford was “so incensed” by this treatment that “he takes one of the torn-down U.S. flags, shreds it up, charges into Steve Forbes’ dressing room [Forbes was that week’s guest host] and hurls it at his entourage.”

Rage performing on the steps of Federal Hall

In January 2000, the band shot the music video for the song “Sleep Now in the Fire” on the steps of Federal Hall in New York and then, along with about 300 fans, stormed the doors of the New York Stock Exchange across the street. The NYSE had to close temporarily and stop trading; Michael Moore, the radical left-wing documentary maker who directed the video, was taken in custody. During this whole drama, the cameras kept rolling, and footage of the fracas was used in the video. “We decided to shoot this video in the belly of the beast,” Moore later said, “and for a few minutes, Rage Against the Machine was able to shut down American capitalism — an act that I am sure tens of thousands of downsized citizens would cheer.”

Zack (second right) in 2008 Denver protest

Rage followed a similar game plan later that year, holding a concert at a Los Angeles venue across the street from the Staples Center, where the Democratic National Convention was underway. During the concert, the band members stirred up the audience’s anger at the political system, and after the concert a group of Rage fans threw rocks and other objects at cops outside the Staples Center, leading to several arrests. Eight years later de la Rocha led thousands of Rage fans in a march from a Rage concert in Denver to the Denver Coliseum, where the DNC Convention was underway; that same year, the band descended on Minneapolis for the Republican National Convention, where “post-concert rioting” by fans led to about 70 arrests. While performing at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in 2007, vocalist Zack de la Rocha told the audience that the Bush Administration “needs to be tried, hung and shot…We need to treat them like the war criminals they are.” During a 2008 show in Reading, England, de la Rocha also called for Tony Blair to be executed.

And this is only a brief overview of Rage’s decades of political engagement. (We didn’t even mention the band’s longtime support for Black Panther and cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, for whom they wrote the song “Voice of the Voiceless.”) As Irving Berlin wrote, there’s no business like show business.

Getting rich on rage

Rage against the Machine

Founded in 1991, the rock band Rage Against the Machine has broken up and reunited several times over the decades. Most recently, the group disbanded in 2011, only to come back together last November for a world tour that will begin next month and continue through September. With a total record sales of around 16 million, Rage is perhaps as well known for its politics as for its music.

That music has been described as everything from “punk” to “hip hop” to “hard rock” to “nu metal.” There is less confusion about the nature of the band’s politics. They are radical, although even that word doesn’t quite do it. The four band members – singer Zack de la Rocha, bassist Tim Commerford, guitarist Tom Morello, and drummer Brad Wilk – are so revolutionary in their political views that sometimes it can seem as if these guys have spent the last three decades doing a brilliant parody of ignorant rockers who live in mansions and ride in limousines all the while thinking of themselves as courageous insurrectionists on the barricades.

EZLN flag

But you’ve got to give them credit for a certain degree of originality. While other politically active showbiz folk focus on issues like gun control and global warming, Rage against the Machine celebrates the cause of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), a far-left group of indigenous Mexicans and their allies that has technically been at war with the Mexican government for many years, but that has long controlled much of the state of Chiapas with the government’s tacit acceptance. (Last August, when the Zapatistas expanded the area under their control, President Andrés Manuel López said that this was just fine, so long as they exerted their authority without violence.)

Rage’s song “People of the Sun,” which appears on the band’s 1996 album Evil Empire, is about the Zapatista cause. The cover of the single features an image of a sickle, an ammunition belt, and a corn cob that is suggestive of the Soviet hammer and sickle. Rage’s YouTube page features an interview with a gun-toting Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente, a Maoist, children’s book author, and former philosophy major at the National Autonomous University of Mexico who, under the noms de guerre Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos and, more recently, Subcomandante Galeano, is the Zapatistas’ longtime spokesperson. In the areas of Chiapas under Zapatista control, images of Subcomandante Galeano alongside Che Guevara and the Mexican Revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata are apparently ubiquitous.

So devoted is Rage to the Zapatistas that the band flies the insurgents’ flag at its concerts. But the EZLN isn’t the band’s only cause. More about that to come.

American professors, Chinese spies

We already knew that countless American professors in the humanities and social sciences encourage their students to despise the US while cultivating in them an admiration for Marxist ideology, the Castro revolution in Cuba, and other totalitarian regimes, past and present. But that, it turns out, is just the tip of the iceberg. For In recent months, as Kyle Houten noted earlier this month at Campus Reform, it has become increasingly clear that a whole lot of faculty members and students at some of America’s top universities have been literally working for the most dangerous of all foreign Communist governments – namely, that of China.

Yi-chi Shih

Last July, for example, the Department of Justice announced the arrest of Yi-Chi Shih, an electrical engineer and professor at UCLA, who had been convicted on 18 federal charges. Yi-Chi, reported Newsweek, was involved in “a plot to illegally obtain microchips from an American company” that supplies parts to the US Air Force and Navy. These microchips, which can be “used in missiles, missile guidance systems, fighter jets, electronic warfare, electronic warfare countermeasures and radar applications,” were sent to a Chinese firm called Chengdu GaStone Technology, of which Yi-Chi had previously served as president. Yi-Chi, who was found “guilty of conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, mail fraud, wire fraud, false tax returns, false statements to a government agency and conspiracy to commit cybertheft,” faced “a statutory maximum sentence of 219 years in prison.”

We wonder: did anyone at UCLA know that Yi-Chi had been president of a Chinese technology outfit – one that, as Newsweek noted, is listed by the Commerce Department as a threat to US national security? Did officials at UCLA know of Yi-Chi’s connection to the firm when they hired him? If so, did it cross their minds that his history of loyalty to America’s principal foreign adversary might be problematic?

Bo Mao

Also last year, Bo Mao, who is on the permanent faculty at Xiamen University in China, was arrested for stealing proprietary technology from a Silicon Valley startup while serving as a visiting professor of computer science at the University of Texas at Arlington. Bo turned the technology over to a subsidiary of Huawei.

Charles Lieber

Late January saw the arrest of Charles Lieber, who is nothing less than the chairman of the chemistry and chemical biology department at Harvard University. Lieber, it appeared, had accepted huge sums of money to build and maintain a laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Technology, where he worked as a “Strategic Scientist from 2012 to 2017, and was allegedly involved in China’s “Thousand Talents” program, which “recruits overseas scientists and induces them to sign secret contracts” that “violate U.S. standards of integrity.” He is accused, moreover, of engaging in “economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, and grant fraud,” and of having lied about his nefarious activities on behalf of China to the administration of Harvard, to the National Institutes of Health, and to the Defense Department.

Joseph Bonavolonta

There have been other such cases at the University of Kansas, at UCLA, at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and at other institutions of higher education, with researchers being found guilty of stealing research materials, of sending technology to China, of recruiting spies, and of concealing their Chinese ties. “No country poses a greater, more severe or long-term threat to our national security and economic prosperity than China,” FBI agent Joseph Bonavolonta told the Associated Press. “China’s communist government’s goal, simply put, is to replace the U.S. as the world superpower, and they are breaking the law to get there.”

Lee Bollinger

The threat is clear. And yet many universities piously refuse to take it seriously, and take appropriate action, on the ridiculous grounds that it would be racist to do so. “No, I won’t start spying on my foreign-born students” read the headline of an August 2019 Washington Post op-ed on the subject by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger. The irony here, of course, is that the admissions policies of some of these same universities systematically discriminate against Asian-Americans.

A turnaround in Venezuela?

Juan Guaidó at the State of the Union

Even as Juan Guaidó – recognized by the US and scores of other countries as the legitimate president of Venezuela since shortly after his swearing-in in January of last year – was accepting bipartisan applause during the State of the Union address in early February, back in his homeland dictator Nicolas Maduro was, according to various reports, more secure in his power than he was a year ago.

As Bloomberg News’s Patricia Laya and Alex Vasquez wrote recently, the Venezuelan economy, which for years has been going from bad to worse thanks to Maduro’s “corruption and colossal mismanagement,” has achieved “a certain measure of stability.” Fewer Venezuelans are escaping to Colombia or Argentina or the US, and some are even moving back. How did this happen? In the last few months, Maduro has lifted price controls and has been “allowing dollars to flow freely and private enterprise to flourish.” Yes, dollars:

Nicolas Maduro

Over the past year, the U.S. dollar has become Venezuela’s unofficial currency, appearing in cafeteria menus and mom-and-pop shop windows blocks from the presidential palace. Across the capital, bodegas filled with French Champagne, vacuum-sealed salmon and Grana Padano Italian cheese appeared where bankrupt shops had once been. The bolivar, the official currency, has become worthless through years of hyperinflation.

A Reuters dispatch even described Maduro has having initiated “a broad liberalization” of his country’s economy. The Economist wrote that Maduro had “become a capitalist, sort of.”

One factory owner told the Wall Street Journal, which ran a long article on these developments, that he felt encouraged: “Things were paralyzed. Now there’s cash flow. There’s a possibility to buy material. And that’s positive. We can offer work.” In Caracas, at least, “everything from imported medicines to Iberian hams to auto parts—all once hard to find—now overflows store shelves. And companies large and small, from Venezuela’s biggest private company, food producer Polar, to makers of glue and shoes, have begun to crank up production.”

Hugo Chávez

Still the Journal underscored that Venezuela is hardly out of the woods. Far from it. It’s still “an economic basket case” whose economy has shrunk by 60% since Maduro inherited power upon the death of his mentor, Hugo Chávez, in 2013, and expected to contract a further 10% in 2020. And Venezuela continues to have the world’s highest inflation rate. “Some economists,” moreover, “say the economy’s recovery may be fleeting, since so much of it is import-driven. They note that the government has no macroeconomic stability plan, and none of its changes is codified in law, meaning the government could quickly return to the days of jailing shop owners accused of price gouging.”

In any event, this economic “liberalization” isn’t accompanied by anything resembling a boost in individual liberty and human rights. Free markets? Yes – to an extent, anyway. Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and the like? No. As Laya and Vasquez put it, Venezuela seems to be headed toward “a version of Chinese-style state capitalism.” Similarly, the Journal reported that “factory operators, importers and store owners” in the Bolivarian Republic are “anxiously wondering whether Venezuela is moving, ever so slowly, toward a Chinese-like model of authoritarian capitalism—or whether Mr. Maduro is just temporarily giving the market a little freedom while the economy is under severe pressure from U.S. sanctions.”

Miraflores Palace

If Maduro’s Venezuela is really following the Chinese model now, its starving slaves may one day be relatively well-fed slaves. If Maduro is just temporarily opening things up in a cynical attempt to cool things off, he may well clamp down again as soon as he feels he can get away with it. In either case, Venezuela is certainly not on its way to becoming a genuinely free nation. On the contrary, his superficial and perhaps impermanent “reforms” may, as the Journal noted, “reduce dissent” – and lessen the chances that Guaidó will ever be able to move into the Miraflores Palace.

Celebrating Steinem

The young Steinem

Question: What’s more tedious than Gloria Steinem?

Answer: Multiple Gloria Steinems.

On January 26, a film entitled The Glorias premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. In it, Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Lulu Wilson, and Ryan Kira Armstrong all play Steinem at various ages. In addition, Steinem herself shows up toward the end of the picture, playing herself.

This goes on for 2 hours and 19 minutes.

Ms. Taymor

The film was directed and co-written by Julie Taymor, who previously helmed the hilarious, raunchy Mel Brooks film musical The Producers. But The Glorias could not be further removed from Mel Brooks territory. By all accounts, it’s a solemn tribute to a woman whom Taymor views as an icon.

This is the same Gloria Steinem who, as we reported here in 2015, headed up a cockamamie “walk for peace” from North Korea to South Korea. Her partner in arms in this disgraceful stunt was Korean Solidary Committee head Christine Ahn, who is seen by many as a stalwart apologist for the Pyongyang regime. Steinem proved her cluelessness about the whole subject when she declared at a press conference that Korea is divided not because the north is a totalitarian prison state but because of the “Cold War mentality.”

With Ms. Davis

As also noted here, Steinem is chummy with Angela Davis, the former Black Panther, accessory to murder, and Communist Party candidate for the Presidency of the U.S., whom Steinem appears to consider a feminist role model.

Then there’s Camille Paglia’s canny observations – which we’ve quoted – about “the simplistic level of Steinem’s thinking,” “that animus of hers against men,” and the fact that Steinem had “turned feminism into a covert adjunct of the Democratic party” (and thus, like many other members of the National Organization for Women, kept shamefully quiet during the Monica Lewinsky scandal).

Ms. Moore as Steinem

This is the woman whom Julie Taymor decided was worthy of celebrating.

The film received the usual raves in the usual places. Yes, the reviewers acknowledged flaws, but because this is a loving tribute to a left-wing idol, the positive verdicts were pretty much predetermined. At Variety, Owen Gleiberman cheered: “Despite the teasing title, it’s not about several competing Glorias; it’s about how all the women Gloria Steinem met or knew, and whose pain and perception she absorbed, were Glorias….We come away moved by her journey, and with an enhanced appreciation for what she did, how she did it, and what it took.”

From Indie Wire: “Filmmaker Julie Taymor has never operated within conventional parameters, but then again, neither has her latest cinematic subject, feminist icon and political firebrand Gloria Steinem.” Indie Wire calls the film a “wonderfully inventive” account of the “inspirational” Steinem’s “extraordinary life.”

Bette Midler

And so on. Ah well: given the politics of Hollywood, and the knee-jerk reverence on the left of the vapid Steinem — who taught millions of well-off American women to think of themselves as oppressed and to ignore the real oppression of women in other parts of the world — we knew this had to happen eventually.

Oh, one last thing: Bette Midler is in the picture too, playing the late Bella Abzug, a shrill, grating Manhattan congresswoman during the 1970s, when New York City was at its lowest ebb, in terms of crime and economy, and who was too busy screaming about the Equal Rights Amendment to do anything of note to address her city’s crisis. The film treats her as a heroine, too. At least the casting sounds right.

Another honor for Ms. Davis

Angela Davis in her youth

Yale University is widely considered one of the world’s leading institutions of higher education. When it wants to celebrate Martin Luther King Day by inviting a prominent individual to give a keynote speech, it presumably has its pick of illustrious black thinkers and civil-rights activists. This year, it chose Angela Davis. Specifically, Davis was selected by Risë Nelson, the assistant dean of Yale College and director of its Afro-American Cultural Center, which co-sponsored the event along with the Department of African American Studies, the Yale College Dean’s Office, and Dwight Hall.

Davis was the CPUSA’s candidate for president

Regular readers of this site will know that this is far from the first time in recent years that Davis has been honored by a major cultural or educational institution. In 2016, the Brooklyn Museum awarded her a major prize for supposedly being a role model for women. In 2017, an Alabama group planned to give her an award for her purported contributions to civil rights, but changed its mind after a Holocaust Education Center, also in Alabama, pointed out that Davis supports the movement to boycott Israel. In 2019, the National Museum of African-American History and Culture at the Smithsonian Institution honored Davis with a special screening of a film that whitewashes her life story. These were far from her first awards. In 1979, the Soviet Union presented Davis with the Lenin Prize.

We’ve covered the details of Davis’s story more than once on this site. We’ve done it because few Americans are more emblematic than Angela Davis of the perverse post-1960s practice by establishment institutions of honoring thugs, bigots, enemies of freedom, and enthusiasts for totalitarianism as heroes of freedom and human rights. We’ve also returned repeatedly to Davis’s story because, despite all the attention we’ve accorded to the truth about her, mainstream media organs have sugarcoated the reality and millions of Americans remain ignorant of it.

How she became famous

The facts of Davis’s life are incontrovertible. As a young member of the Black Panthers, she acquired the guns carried by a fellow Panther, Jonathan Jackson, when he walked into a California courtroom where yet another Panther, James McClain, was on trial. Jackson handed guns to the defendant and to two convicts who were serving as witnesses, and the four of them then took the judge, prosecutor, and three jurors hostage in an effort to free Jackson’s older brother, George, from prison. There ensured a shootout in which the judge and three of the hostage-takers were killed, the prosecutor paralyzed, and a juror wounded. Placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List for her role in this crime, Davis took it on the lam. She was eventually captured, but thanks to a campaign funded by an international network of Communists she ended up being freed by a northern California jury containing more than its share of sympathetic radicals. Thanks, moreover, to the leftist slant of the hiring committees at many American universities in recent decades, Davis has been able to make a career in the academy.

A recent picture of Davis

We’ve mentioned the widespread tendency to whitewash Davis’s background. In reporting on Davis’s speech at Yale, Ella Goldblum of the Yale Daily News quoted her as saying that “People of African descent in the Americas have embodied the quest for freedom for five long centuries,” but didn’t mention that, back in the day, she was a big fan of the USSR, not known for its freedom, or that she remains an admirer of the Castro regime in Cuba. No, Goldblum chose instead to describe Davis as “a leftist activist, academic, philosopher and author of over ten books on class, feminism and the U.S. prison system,” as a “star of the Black Power Movement of the 1960s and 1970s,” and as a sometime member of the Black Panther party, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the American Communist Party. Here’s how the Goldblum described the episode that defined her life: “She was imprisoned for 16 months for her alleged involvement in the armed seizure of a Marin County Courthouse in California and was released on bail and eventually acquitted.” Ironically, Goldblum’s whitewash of Davis described her as criticizing “the tendency to whitewash [Martin Luther King’s] struggle against ‘unjust peace.’” Goldblum’s article concluded with glowing comments by people who had attended the event. One of them liked how Davis “placed feminism as a central part of all freedom movements”; another said that Davis made her feel “empowered to be more active in her community.” Was any of these people aware of the precise way in which Davis, when she was much closer to their own age, chose to be “active in her community”? Is it really possible to graduate from Yale University believing that Angela Davis is a pillar of freedom?