Farrakhan: from “Calypso Gene” to Saddam crony

Louis Farrakhan

We’ve devoted a lot of our attention on this website to famous Western entertainers – from Hilary Swank and Sharon Stone to Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn – who’ve performed for various Asian or African dictators in exchange for hefty paychecks. Pretty sleazy stuff, of course, especially given that the entertainers in question were hardly strapped for cash. No, it’s called selling out. 

There are, of course, other ways for celebrities to sell out.

An album of Farrakhan’s calypso cuts

Born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1933, Louis Eugene Walcott began his career as a calypso singer and violinist, using the stage names “The Charmer” and “Calypso Gene.” But apparently music wasn’t doing it for him. He needed more. In 1955 he attended a Nation of Islam event at a mosque in Chicago. It changed his life. Not long after, he joined the Nation of Islam and became Louis X, the use of “X” in place of a last name being a Nation of Islam practice based on the premise that black Americans’ last names were slave names and that their original African names were unknown. Later, Elijah Muhammed, the Nation of Islam leader, gave Louis the Arabic last name of Farrakhan, which means “The Criterion.”

Malcolm X (left) and Louis Farrakhan (right) at a Harlem rally

It was not long before Farrakhan was named a minister, serving first as the assistant to Malcolm X in Boston, then becoming head minister there. But Farrakhan proved himself to be a more loyal member of the cult than even Malcolm X. When the famous activist, who for most white Americans was the very face of the Nation of Islam, called out the cult’s leader, Elijah Muhammed, for sexually abusing teenage girls, Farrakhan publicly defended Elijah Muhammed to the hilt and declared Malcolm X to be “worthy of death.” A few weeks later, Malcolm X was murdered by three men with links to the Nation of Islam.

Warith Al-Deen Mohammed

After Elijah Muhammed died, Farrakhan served as a Sunni imam under the late leader’s son, Warith Al-Deen Mohammed,who gave him the name Abdul-Haleem. Leaving Mohammed’s movement in 1978, Farrakhan established a new Nation of Islam. At its head, he routinely made headlines by calling caucasians “white devils,” calling Jews “bloodsuckers” and Judaism “a gutter religion,” and calling Hitler “very great.” Speaking of the Jews in a 1985 speech at Madison Square Garden, Farrakhan exclaimed: “Don’t you forget, when it’s God who puts you in the ovens, it’s forever!” Repeatedly, Farrkahan proclaimed that God had decreed the death of America, which he described as the most evil nation in human history. He pinned 9/11 on “the Jews.”

Farrakhan with Qaddafi

He was friendly with Muammar Qaddafi, who donated a billion dollars to Farrakhan’s political work, and who, speaking at a Nation of Islam convention in Chicago, said that he hoped to fund a black revolution in America. Farrakhan, for his part, called Qaddafi his “friend” and “brother.” He also befriended the leaders of Iran, Iraq, and other countries listed by the U.S. as state sponsors of terrorism.

He exchanged letters of support with Saddam Hussein, whom he praised as a “visionary.” Years later, he met with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

A pretty appalling record. And yet it hasn’t kept a number of high-profile showbiz  figures from gladly collaborating with him. More on Thursday.

Tessa Thompson, actress — and activist!

Tessa Thompson

Born in L.A. to an Afro-Panamanian father and a Euro-Mexican mother (these adjectives, which we’ve never seen before, are taken from her Wikipedia page), Tessa Thompson, age 34, has become a big star in recent years. After appearing on TV series like Cold Case, Grey’s Anatomy, and Heroes, she was in the big-budget movies Selma (2014), Creed (2015), and the Marvel comic-book feature Thor: Ragnarok (2017). She’s won acting awards at the American Black Film Festival, the Black Reel Awards, and the African-American Film Critics Association.

And like many other young Hollywood actresses, she’s into politics. Just ask Natalie Portman, who recently told Elle that Thompson is “someone you can go dance with or laugh with, or talk about politics.” How wonderful! Who doesn’t want to talk about politics with a Hollywood actress?

A promotional photo for Dear White People

So far, the defining picture of her career would seem to be Dear White People, a 2014 comedy-drama about black students at an Ivy League college. Just to be clear, these kids are going to an Ivy League college, and we’re supposed to see them as oppressed – and to see the film as some kind of inspired statement about racial relations in America. Thompson herself certainly thought so when she perused the script. She told Elle that after reading it, she “had a burning to be involved.”

With Teyonah Parris (right), promoting Dear White People

A brief detour into Dear White People, just so you have an idea of what kind of acting jobs get Thompson excited. In this movie, she played the heroine, Sam, a campus radical who “causes a stir” by “criticizing white people and the racist transgressions at Winchester.” What kind of racist transgressions? Well, let’s just say that the film’s climax centers on a group of white students who decide to throw a party in blackface.

Thompson at Sundance

Yes, blackface. Now, you may ask: at what Ivy League college in this day and age would white students actually hold a blackface party? Don’t pose such questions. What are you, a racist? And don’t dare to suggest that Dear White People, which was (predictably) a sensation at the Sundance Film Festival, is, from start to finish, an example of racial grievance-mongering gone amok. No, you’re supposed to echo the Hollywood line that stuff like this, however stale and poorly made, is actually courageous and pathbreaking.

That’s certainly the line that most of the high-profile reviewers took. Even as it admitted that the film was a total mess, Time Out praised it for, well, making all the right victim-group noises: “The plot meanders, the characters don’t come into focus until fairly late in the game, and the script’s tunnel-visioned unwillingness to wrestle with the class and gender issues inherent in its story can be disappointing. But where it scores big is its wealth of ideas – visual, emotional, cultural – and its deep well of bitter, voice-of-experience rage.”

Rage! That’s the ticket. Forget plot, characters, theme: a “deep well” of racial rage can overcome any flaws.

More on Thursday.

Finally, a prof gets punished for anti-white racism

Tucker Carlson

On June 4, Tucker Carlson of Fox News reported on a Memorial Day party, held in New York by Black Lives Matter, from which non-blacks were explicitly banned. He quoted from a statement by the organizers: “Being intentional about being around Black People is an act of resistance. This is an exclusively Black Space. So if you do not identify as Black and want to come because you love Black People, please respect the space and do not come.”

He then brought on a guest named Lisa Durden, whom he identified as a political commentator and Black Lives Matter supporter. Carlson expressed surprise at the decision of a group supposedly devoted to racial equality to enforce a policy of segregation, and asked Durden how she could reconcile this seeming contradiction. Durden, instead of responding seriously to a serious question, reacted with cartoonish condescension: “What I say to that is, boo-hoo-hoo, you white people are angry because you couldn’t use your white privilege card to get invited to Black Lives Matter’s Memorial Day celebration.” She went on to say that Memorial Day had been founded by former slaves in 1865 after the Civil War to honor Union soldiers who had died for their freedom, and that “in that same vein” BLM had held this party to commemorate the murder of “black folks…by racist terrorists.”

Durden’s comment was bizarre on several levels. First, there is no evidence that Memorial Day was founded by former slaves. Second, if it was founded by former slaves to honor Union soldiers (the overwhelming number of whom were white) who had died for their freedoms, banning white people from such an event seems rather odd. Third, Durdan’s whole tone was that not of a serious commentator but of – well, watch the video yourself and figure out how best to describe it.

Rachel Lindsay, black Bachelorette

“White folks,” Durden went on to say, “crack me up. All of a sudden when we want to have one day to focus on ourselves….You’ve had an all-white Oscars, all these movies with all-white actors…all-white TV shows….The Bachelorette, it took eleven seasons to have a black bachelorette. Are you serious?” When Carlson repeated the point that the BLM event seemed “hostile” and “separatist” and “crazy,” Durden, by way of defending BLM’s racial separatism, said: “People hold weddings where they exclude children,” because they can’t be sure kids wouldn’t disrupt the event. By the same logic, she maintained, BLM had imposed a ban on whites in order to avoid having its party ruined by “white folks who are gonna be off the rails.” Durden summed up BLM’s message to whites as follows: “Stay your asses out!”

As it happens, Lisa Durden isn’t just a political commentator. She’s also an adjunct professor at Essex County College in Newark, teaching speech, mass communication, and popular culture.

Essex County College

Or, at least, was an adjunct professor at Essex County College. Two days after her appearance on Carlson’s show, she showed up for work only to discover that she had been suspended “until further notice.” She quickly went out into the media to declare that she had been “lynched.” The college, for its part, issued a statement indicating that it “promotes a community of unity that is inclusive of all.” Durden’s attorney professed to be mystified by her suspension. What could possibly be the college’s “agenda?” Had Durden been “too outspoken?” White-bashing has become so normalized on American campuses that for a college to actually punish a faculty member for engaging in it left both her and her lawyer scratching their heads in wonderment. Later in June came news of Durden’s permanent dismissal from her job. Essex County College deserves congratulations for bucking the nefarious academic trends of the day and actually punishing black-on-white racism.

Loving the Black Panthers?

She studied PR and “Leadership Studies” at Hampton University, then got a Master’s Degree in “Music Business” at NYU. She’s now at Yale, earning another Master’s – this one in Divinity. She “loves good music, down time with friends, & ice cream!” Sounds like a good life.

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Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes

And she seems like a good person. Last year she and several other Yale Divinity School students went to Flint, Michigan, to “hold a pastors roundtable conversation on the intersection of ecology and theology and distribute water filters and hygienic items.” She explained her motivation as follows: “As a Christian, I find that everything I do is affected by my faith. In this instance, I wanted to see the Christian community rally around these residents to make change. I was seeing assistance here and there from other organizations but I didn’t see any support from the church universal. While the church does overseas mission work well, we sometimes ignore the needs of our own nation. I didn’t want to see that happen any longer.”

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Wilkes on The O’Reilly Factor

So it was a shame to hear what Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes had to say in mid February during an appearance on Fox News’s The O’Reilly Factor. Wilkes, a bright-eyed young black woman who exuded cheer and charm, was there to talk about a couple of Yale-related news stories. The first story concerned an effort by students and faculty to remove the name of John C. Calhoun from one of Yale’s residential colleges. Calhoun was one of the great statesmen of the nineteenth century, serving as Secretary of State, Secretary of War, Senator from South Carolina, and as Vice President under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. Unfortunately, he was also a slave owner, which is why a movement arose to change the name of that college. When asked by host Bill O’Reilly, Wilkes affirmed that she supported the change. But that’s fine – something that reasonable people can argue about.

On May 2, 1967, Black Panthers amassed at the Capitol in Sacramento brandishing guns to protest a bill before an Assembly committee restricting the carrying of arms in public. Self-defense was a key part of the Panthers' agenda. This was an early action, a year after their founding.
Armed Black Panthers take over the California State Capitol on May 2, 1967, to protest a gun-control bill

It was what she had to say on the second topic that was so disturbing. Wilkes, it emerged, was one of a group of students at Yale who wanted to hold a campus event marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Black Panthers. Some of them, including Wilkes, had recently crossed the country to attend what was apparently a sort of learn-in at the Oakland Museum. Their goal was “to learn the history” of the Panthers; they went, she said, “as student archivists.” “Did you come away with a favorable impression of the Black Panther movement?” asked O’Reilly. “Oh, absolutely!” gushed Wilkes. O’Reilly then played a tape of Black Panther co-founder Stokely Carmichael ranting about “the honkey” (a Black Power-era term for white people). After also mentioning the killings and violence committed by the Black Panthers, O’Reilly asked: “How can you look favorably upon that group?”

Not entirely seeming to grasp the question, Wilkes started to comment about the “long history of racism in this country.” Interrupting her, O’Reilly suggested that the Panthers themselves were racists. She rushed in quickly to insist that they weren’t anti-white but pro-black. “It makes me a little uneasy,” said O’Reilly, “that a very intelligent woman like yourself could even think that these people were worthy of being considered in Black History Month.” Wilkes either was genuinely surprised by this point of view or did a very good job of feigning surprise – or perhaps she was just mocking him: “Oh, that’s INTERESTING!” she replied. “Oh, REALLY?”

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The Black Panthers in their heyday

And that was pretty much the gist of it. O’Reilly was kind and respectful to Wilkes, apparently having pretty much the same reaction to her that we did: that while it’s disturbing to hear anybody praising the Black Panthers, it’s especially disturbing to see a young black woman who seems so decent and well-meaning celebrating their memory. Perhaps instead of devoting so much time to the study of PR, the music business, and so on, she would have done well at some point to read one or two honest, comprehensive histories of the Black Power movement. She wouldn’t have even had to go all the way to Oakland to find copies of them.

Bernstein: after the ball

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Bernstein and wife

What the Bernsteins probably did not realize at first,” wrote Tom Wolfe toward the end of his historic 1970 essay “Radical Chic,” was that after Charlotte Curtis’s story about the party at which Leonard and Felicia Bernstein‘s society friends had mingled with Black Panthers was distributed worldwide by the New York Times News Service, it provoked “an international chorus of horse laughs or nausea, depending on one’s Weltanschauung. The English, particularly, milked the story for all it was worth and seemed to derive one of the great cackles of the year from it.” The Times itself – then a very different organ from the paper that currently goes by that name – ran an editorial that harshly criticized the “[e]mergence of the Black Panthers as the romanticized darlings of the politico-cultural jet set,” calling this development “an affront to the majority of black Americans” and charging that the Bernsteins’ party “mocked the memory of Martin Luther King Jr.”

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Charlotte Curtis

Indeed. Alas, the Bernsteins’ shameless shindig didn’t marked the end of something but its beginning – namely, the birth of a deeply institutionalized practice, on the part of the American cultural, media, and political establishment, of idealizing, credentializing, and rewarding radical race warriors (and, later, pseudo-radical race hucksters, hustlers, and shakedown artists) instead of affording attention and respect to those who have addressed with wisdom and frankness the hard questions about the terrible pathologies afflicting inner-city America. Wolfe’s term “radical chic,” of course, entered the language – and justifiably so, because it perfectly captured the superficiality and faddishness the characterized the support by various cultural elite types for violent movements explicitly dedicated to their death and destruction.

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The curtain call at the premiere of “MASS”

In any event, the Bernsteins and their friends soon showed just how shallow their dedication to the Black Panthers was. After Charlotte Curtis’s news article and Tom Wolfe’s essay exposed their folly for the world to see, they scattered like rats. Yes, most of them transferred their loyalty to other harebrained far-left causes – or found other ways to broadcast their moral virtue to the world.

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Harold Schonberg

Bernstein, for example, composed “MASS: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers,” which was performed at the September 1971 opening of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and described by New York Times music critic Harold Schonberg in his review as “a pseudo-serious effort at rethinking the Mass that basically is, I think, cheap and vulgar.” Schonberg might well have been recalling Bernstein’s party for the Black Panthers when he wrote, in his review, that “MASS” was “a very chic affair” that offered “a sentimental response to great problems of our time” by “a musician who desperately wants to be with it.” (At the piece’s climactic moment, a Christian cross is destroyed.)

bppIn later years, Bernstein’s dedication to superficial virtue-signaling persisted: among other things, he lent his strong support to the Kremlin-backed 1980s movement for unilateral nuclear disarmament by the West.

But the Black Panthers? In 1970, after the news of their silly party had traveled around the world, Bernstein and company dropped the Panthers like a hot potato. Not because they had learned anything, not because they had grown wiser, but only because they were more worried about being mocked than about being murdered.

Slumming with Lenny

A young Cuban man rides a bicycle in front of the huge apartment blocks in Alamar, a public housing periphery of Havana, Cuba, 9 February 2011. The Cuban economic transformation (after the revolution in 1959) has changed the housing status in Cuba from a consumer commodity into a social right. In 1970s, to overcome the serious housing shortage, the Cuban state took over the Soviet Union concept of social housing. Using prefabricated panel factories, donated to Cuba by Soviets, huge public housing complexes have risen in the outskirts of Cuban towns. Although these mass housing settlements provided habitation to many families, they often lack infrastructure, culture, shops, services and well-maintained public spaces. Many local residents have no feeling of belonging and inspite of living on a tropical island, they claim to be “living in Siberia”.
The imperiled beauty of Havana

Today we might call it slumming. For many of those who’ve lived charmed, safe lives in free countries, there’s something remarkably attractive about the combination of poverty, tyranny, and violence – all those things they’ve never actually experienced themselves. On this site, we’ve written several times about the plaints of various Westerners who fret that capitalism, if and when it’s truly and fully implemented in Cuba, will destroy the “magic” and “charm” of that ruined, broken-down country. They wouldn’t want to live there themselves, of course, but they find it thrilling to know that all that glamorous destitution and oppression is only a few hours’ plane ride away.

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Leonard Bernstein

Naturally, what makes it thrilling for them rather than terrifying is the knowledge that, after paying a visit to the place, they can fly back to New York or L.A. or London and resume their lives in a free, prosperous society. In the same way, Leonard Bernstein could stand in his own luxurious Park Avenue apartment, surrounded by his rich friends, and listen with equanimity while leaders of the Black Panthers explained their plans for destroying American democracy and replacing it with a dictatorship by them.

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Tom Wolfe

For Bernstein and many of his chums, a kind of doublethink (to borrow Orwell’s useful term) seems to have been operating in this particular instance. Even as they pledged money to help bring on the Panthers’ revolution, they couldn’t really imagine any such revolution happening. Or else their wealth and privilege had bred in them such utter confidence in their own unshakable security that they believed that they, personally, would somehow be magically exempt from the Reign of Terror that would surely follow any successful revolt by these bloodthirsty Maoist rebels.

blackpanthers1Tom Wolfe, in his classic 1970 essay “Radical Chic” (which we’re talking about this week), quoted a guest at one of the Black Panther soirées as saying about one of the thugs: “He’s a magnificent man, but suppose some simple-minded schmucks take all that business about burning down buildings seriously?” To these moneyed Manhattanites, the “schmucks” were those who actually took the Panthers at their word; they themselves, in their own view, were infinitely more sophisticated, choosing to interpret the Panthers’ rhetoric as – what? – a kind of poetry? A fanciful vision of murderous revolution that would, in reality, be manifested as an eminently sensible program of rational reform?

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Otto Preminger

To be sure, not all of Bernstein’s gilded guests were entirely complacent or deluded. Movie director Otto Preminger challenged one Panther’s claim that America’s government was the most repressive in the world. Barbara Walters expressed concern about her fate in a post-Panther Revolution America: “I’m talking as a white woman who has a white husband, who is a capitalist, or an agent of capitalists, and I am, too, and I want to know if you are to have your freedom, does that mean we have to go!” But both of them stopped short of standing up and leaving in disgust. Preminger, indeed, after berating one of the Panther leaders, made a point of shaking the would-be mass murderer’s hand to show there were no hard feelings.

We’ll finish up with this tomorrow.

Bernstein’s noble savages

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Jean-Jacques Rosseau

The belief that primitive peoples are naturally endowed with goodness and purity, and that civilization poisons these attributes, is as old as civilization itself. The idea is embodied in the term “noble savage,” which first appeared in a 1672 play by John Dryden. The Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78), whose views helped shape modern Western thought, routinely sang the praises of primeval man, untainted by what he saw as the decadence of civilization. During the Romantic Era of the late 1700s and early 1800s, authors, poets, and painters all over Europe depicted in an idealized way the lives of unlettered, uneducated men whom they saw not only as living in nature but as parts of nature themselves, as pure as the country air they breathed or the unpolluted streams from which they drank.

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Kirkpatrick Sale

Back then, many a European aristocrat embraced romantic images of the native peoples of the Americas, Asia, and Africa; more recently, authors like Kirkpatrick Sale, in books like Sale’s The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy (1990), have proffered the puerile fantasy that before European voyagers found their way to what they arrogantly called the New World, the natives led lives of peace and harmony, enjoying a rare bliss that the newcomers replaced with cruelty and destruction.

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Tom Wolfe

Plainly, this is a mentality that was much in evidence at the Leonard Bernstein party immortalized by Tom Wolfe in his essay “Radical Chic.” For Bernstein and many of the moneyed celebrity friends whom he invited to his home on the evening of January 14, 1970, the Black Panthers who were the party’s special guests were just that – noble savages. It was an offensive attitude, a racist attitude, a patronizing attitude – an attitude, in fact, that enabled them to belittle the very real danger that the Panthers obviously represented. In his essay, Wolfe quotes a “Park Avenue matron” who, at one of the pre-Bernstein “Radical Chic” parties, exclaimed about the Panthers: “These are no civil-rights Negroes wearing gray suits three sizes too big—these are real men!”

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Felicia Montealegre, Richard Bernstein, and Black Panther Field Marshal Donald Cox

In other words, they weren’t drab, dull, law-abiding middle-class blacks – they were real-life noble savages, embracing their nobility and their savagery! Such views on the part of Bernstein’s movers and shakers, needless to say, represent prejudice at its ugliest – prejudice dressed up as sensitivity and tolerance.

Among the Black Panthers who attended the Bernsteins’ fête that night were Robert Bay, who only a couple of days earlier had been arrested in Queens on a gun charge; Don Cox, the group’s Oakland-based “Field Marshall,” Henry Miller, its “defense captain,” and Ray “Masai” Hewitt, its Minister of Education and a member of its Central Committee.

Also present was lawyer Leon Quat, who at the moment was busy defending no fewer than twenty-one Black Panthers who, as Wolfe noted, “had been arrested on a charge of conspiring to blow up five New York department stores, New Haven Railroad facilities, a police station and the Bronx Botanical Gardens.”

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Frank Stanton

Mingling with these criminals in the Bernsteins’ thirteen-room Park Avenue duplex were such nabobs as high-society bandleader Peter Duchin, CBS president Frank Stanton, popular songwriters Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof) and Burton Lane (Finian’s Rainbow), New York Review of Books editor Robert Silvers, and the wives of such eminences as chic photographer Richard Avedon, film director Arthur Penn, and singer Harry Belafonte. Wolfe quoted Cheray Duchin, spouse of the bandleader, as telling society columnist Charlotte Curtis, who would break the story of the party in the next day’s New York Times: “I’ve never met a Panther—this is a first for me!”

More tomorrow.

Bernstein’s Maoists

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Fashion + Fidel = Fun!

Last year, we wrote here about a garden party held by fashion designer Stella McCartney (Paul McCartney’s daughter) at her Manhattan home. The theme was “Cuba Libre.” High-profile guests, such as Maggie Gyllenhaal, Alicia Keys, and Liv Tyler, enjoyed Cuban treats and snapped selfies with two actors who’d been hired for the occasion to dress up as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.

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Anna Quintana

The Hollywood Reporter, Women’s Wear Daily, Vogue, and other major media found the whole thing just adorable; so did one after another of the leading fashion websites. One discordant note was sounded by Anna Quintana, a young Cuban-American style writer, who lodged this complaint: “I find it hard to process how a designer I have long admired…could feature a garden party with walking caricatures of Castro and Che Guevara, two figures that many, if not all, in the Cuban-American community would consider to be the epitome of cruelty.”

Why, indeed, would Stella McCarthy, who has spent her entire life enjoying all the privileges afforded to the daughter of the world’s richest musician, celebrate monsters like Fidel and Che, who, if her father had been Cuban, would likely have thrown him in prison or put him in front of a firing squad?

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Tom Wolfe

In his classic 1970 article “Radical Chic,” which we began looking at yesterday, Tom Wolfe identified the attraction of the cultural elite of forty-five years ago to totalitarian thugs like the Black Panthers – who sought to overthrow the U.S. government and replace it with a system just as brutal as Castro’s – as an example of nostalgie de la boue. Meaning what? Literally: “nostalgia for the mud.” The term refers to the attraction of many foolish people at the top of the ladder to those at the bottom of the ladder – and not just any of those at the bottom (certainly not the hard-working, law-abiding drudges), but those whom the people at the top view as the most exotic, colorful, violent, primitive, dangerous.

On May 2, 1967, Black Panthers amassed at the Capitol in Sacramento brandishing guns to protest a bill before an Assembly committee restricting the carrying of arms in public. Self-defense was a key part of the Panthers' agenda. This was an early action, a year after their founding.
The Black Panthers held their own soiree on May 2, 1967, at the State Capitol in Sacramento

At this site, we’ve touched before on the Black Panthers – and on the perverse eagerness of many decent, civilized people to makes heroes out of them. 

Last December, discussing a documentary about the Panthers by Stanley Nelson, we noted that the movie was nothing less than a group hagiography, presenting the Panthers as (in our words) “an endearing crew of human-rights activists who were devoted to charity work and whose repeated clashes with police reflected not any predilection to violence on their own part but the cops’ ferocity and racism.” The film’s cockeyed portrayal of the Panthers won cheers from film-festival audiences and from reviewers for places like the Hollywood Reporter.

Black-Panther-Party-armed-guards-in-street-shotgunsIt was Michael Moynihan of The Daily Beast who provided a reality check, pointing out that the Black Panthers, guided by “the revolutionary works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Chairman Mao, Comrades Kim Il Sung, Ho Chi Minh, Che, Malcolm X, and other great leaders of the worldwide people’s struggle for liberation,” were responsible for innumerable “revenge killings, punishment beatings, purges, [and] ‘disappearances.’” In their official newspaper, they ranted about “racist imperialist faggot honkey[s],” ran paeans to Stalin, Mao, Kim Il-Sung, and Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha.

And yet the crème de la crème of New York’s beau monde invited these people into their houses and dug into their pockets to contribute to their “cause.” How to make sense of it? Tune in tomorrow.

East Side Story

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Leonard Bernstein, 1955

Leonard Bernstein (1918-90) was a genius – a profound, remarkably versatile genius. He was arguably the first world-class American symphony conductor, waving his baton at the New York Philharmonic from 1958 to 1969 and serving as guest conductor of other major orchestras around the world. He was a gifted composer of classical music – producing innumerable symphonies, operas, chamber works, choral works, and even a Mass.

He composed the background music for On the Waterfront, which won the Academy Award for Best Film of 1954. He supplied the tunes for such classic Broadway shows as On the Town, Wonderful Town, and West Side Story, including such standards as “Some Other Time,” “Tonight,” and “I Feel Pretty.” He penned several absorbing, illuminating books about music for the general reader. And he hosted a series of network television programs that did a truly brilliant job of introducing young people to serious music.

But he could also be a fool. In the years after World War II, his close ties to several Soviet front groups led the FBI to pay close attention to his activities. Ultimately, the FBI concluded that he was just a naïf, not a Communist. Yet what a naïf! Tom Wolfe proved, once and for all, in a deathless 25,000-word article entitled “Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s,” just what a naïf Bernstein was. Indeed, he was not just any naïf – he was the naïf whose naïveté, thanks to that brilliant June 1970 cover story for New York Magazine, became the very archetype of late Sixties and early Seventies liberal-establishment naïveté in the face of the trendy revolutionary politics of the day.

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Tom Wolfe

Wolfe’s article, as the title itself indicates, was all about a party. Specifically, a party at Bernstein’s “13-room penthouse duplex on Park Avenue,” where he lived with his wife, Felicia Montealegre. It wasn’t just any party. Held the previous January, it was, in fact, one of a series of parties thrown by various members of the Manhattan haute monde so that their hoity-toity friends could meet, mingle with, and contribute money to various radical-left groups.

This was a time, it should be remembered, when many prominent, privileged members of the American Establishment were getting their jollies, perversely, by identifying with fanatics who were hell bent on bringing down that Establishment and crushing its privileges. It made no logical sense.

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Sidney Lumet

But it happened. Only a week before the Bernsteins’ party, film director Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, The Verdict) had held a soirée for the Black Panthers. A week earlier, a prominent publisher had also hosted the Black Panthers. Jean vanden Heuvel, a.k.a. Jean Stein, the socialite mother of current Nation publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, had welcomed the Chicago Eight rioters  to her home; a week after the Bernstein bash, philanthropist Eleanor Guggenheimer would hold a get-together for the Puerto Rican radical group the Young Lords

These upper-class hosts and hostesses were all, in their various ways, useful stooges, aiding and abetting some of the most virulent, totalitarian-minded enemies of the free, democratic capitalist societies in which they themselves had thrived. But thanks in large part to Wolfe’s article, Bernstein became the very personification of that memorable historical moment when thesmart set” showed its very stupid side. More tomorrow.

“The embodiment of all we hold dear”

davislifeYesterday we met Angela Davis, who in August 1970 supplied guns for a courtroom raid and hostage-taking incident in Marin County, California, that was intended to free her boyfriend, a felon then confined at Soledad State Prison. The incident ended in several deaths, and when the authorities became aware of Davis’s role, she was charged with murder, conspiracy, and kidnapping. Instead of surrendering to the police, Davis – who at the time was an active member of both the Communist Party and Black Panthers – became a fugitive from justice.

During her months underground, the FBI put her on its Ten Most Wanted List. She became a household name. Some American Communist leaders wanted to expel her from the Party and brand her a terrorist; but they lost out to other Party honchos, who decided to give Davis the Party’s full support and publicly identify her as a noble crusader against – and tragic victim of – racist, sexist, and capitalist oppression. 

American activist Angela Davis, shortly after she was fired from her post as philosophy professor at UCLA due to her membership of the Communist Party of America, 27th November 1969. (Photo by Lucas Mendes/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
Davis in 1969

Davis was finally tracked down and arrested at a New York motel in October 1970. When she went on trial in February 1972, she was represented by the American Communist Party’s general counsel. At the same time, the Party, in league with its sister parties in the West and under the direction of the Kremlin, spearheaded a high-profile worldwide movement promoting sympathy for her “cause” and calling for her release.

This movement won the support of a number of useful celebrity idiots. The Rolling Stones dedicated a song, “Sweet Black Angel,” to Davis; John Lennon and Yoko Ono also recorded a song about her, “Angela.” (It began: “Angela / They put you in prison / Angela / They shot down your man / Angela / You’re one of the billion political prisoners in the world.”)

Among Davis’s fervent supporters were Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison. In the USSR, thousands of people signed petitions demanding her freedom; Soviet children mailed postcards to President Nixon pleading with him to let her go.

In the end, Davis was acquitted, despite mountains of incriminating evidence. Ron Radosh later compared the verdict to that in the O.J. Simpson murder trial; so did Roger Kimball, writing: “How did she get off? In part, for the same reason that O.J. Simpson got off: celebrity, edged with racial grievance mongering.” What’s more, the jury was heavily compromised: one of its members was Mary Timothy, an activist who would later become romantically involved with Communist Party official Bettina Aptheker, a friend of Davis’s and founder of the National United Committee to Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners.

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Davis in Cuba with Fidel Castro

Following her acquittal, Davis flew to Cuba, a country that she hailed as a model of socialism and racial harmony. In 1975, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn criticized her for having refused to speak up for prisoners in Communist countries. In 1977, she expressed enthusiasm for Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple cult in Guyana, over 900 of whose members, in one of the signal events of that decade, would die in a 1979 mass murder-suicide. Also in 1979, Davis went to Moscow to accept the Lenin Peace Prize. Russian writer Vitaly Korotich, who met her there, later said that she was “a useful tool for the Brezhnev government, used to bolster Communist ideals and speak out against the West during the Cold War.”

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Davis in Moscow, 1972

During those years, the media followed Davis everywhere she went and covered her public activities and statements extensively. An opponent of all American military ventures, Davis gave a thumbs-up to the Soviet invasions of both Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. Prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain, she received honorary doctorates from two institutions in Warsaw Pact countries, Lenin University and the University of Leipzig.

davis3In 1980 and 1984, she was the Communist Party’s candidate for Vice President. In the 1980s she taught Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University; she was later hired by the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she was a member of both the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies departments. The current profile of Davis on the website of UC Santa Cruz includes the following sentence: “Professor Davis’s long-standing commitment to prisoners’ rights dates back to her involvement in the campaign to free the Soledad Brothers, which led to her own arrest and imprisonment.” An interesting way of referring to the fact that Davis supplied Jonathan Jackson with those guns. 

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Davis speaking at the Brooklyn Museum

Today, she is hailed as a hero of feminism, of black civil rights, and of social-justice causes generally. In 2012, Ron Radosh noted that the Superior Court building in Washington, D.C., was hosting “a photo exhibit celebrating renowned black women” – and that one of those honored was none other than Angela Davis. Then, in early June of this year, came the news that Davis had won the Sackler Center award, presented to women at the top of their fields. At the ceremony, Elizabeth Sackler, chairwoman of the Brooklyn Museum, said that Davis was “the embodiment of all we hold dear” and that her very name was “synonymous with truth.” In fact, the award was only one more deplorable example of the contemporary elevation to heroic status of enemies of freedom and champions of totalitarianism.