Carol Andreas, Maoist

Yesterday we looked at a recent New York Times piece in which a Brown University professor named Peter Andreas paid tribute to his mother. In the article, entitled “Thanks to Mom, the Marxist Revolutionary,” Andreas celebrated his mother’s “commitment to transformative social change” and “devotion to creating a more just world.”

The cover of Peter Andreas’s memoir, featuring a picture of himself and his mother, Carol

One thing that stood out in the piece was the omission of Andreas’s mother’s first name. As it turns out, her name was Carol Andreas. There were a few other things Peter Andreas left out of his essay. For example, his mother, whom he strove to depict as a sort of Auntie Mame with a radical but ultimately benign and even charming political orientation, wasn’t just a Communist (as if that weren’t bad enough) – she was a fanatical disciple of Mao, a zealous supporter of his Cultural Revolutionary, and an intimate collaborator with (if not outright member of) the Peruvian terrorist group Shining Path.

In any event, her son’s Times memoir isn’t the first time she’s been enthusiastically eulogized. When she died, the website of the Maoist Internationalist Party – Amerika (MIPA) ran an obituary headlined “Amerikan revolutionary Carol Andreas passes away.”

Praising Carol Andreas for her “international significance to Maoism,” the MIPA noted that “In 1976, when most of the world’s communists fell for Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiaoping after the death of Mao, Carol Andreas held firm. Her study group immediately published a book upon the death of Mao upholding the Cultural Revolution and denouncing the capitalist restoration.”

Mao Zedong

Get it? Even Deng Xiaoping, who took control of Communist China after the death of Mao, wasn’t Communist enough for Carol Andreas. When the Cultural Revolution was over – that bizarrely named period during which millions of persons dubbed insufficiently radical by China’s governing regime were deprived of their homes, families, careers, and lives – many of them being subjected along the way to extensive torture and efforts at brainwashing – Carol Andreas mourned its passing. In the admiring words of the MIPA, she “proved to have great foresight and firmness on this question while most of the world’s communists temporarily fell off course.”

Peruvian soldiers carrying rescued children, formerly held as hostages by Shining Path guerrillas

That wasn’t her only praiseworthy conduct on behalf of the cause. She also “gave her energy to the revolution in Peru” – in other words, to Shining Path, the Maoist group which is so extreme that back when there was still a Soviet bloc, the Shining Path considered it insufficiently Communist. To quote Wikipedia: “Widely condemned for its brutality, including violence deployed against peasants, trade union organizers, popularly elected officials and the general civilian population, the Shining Path is classified by the Peruvian government, the U.S., the European Union, and Canada as a terrorist organization.”

Anyway, that’s old Mom for you. And that’s the New York Times, yet again whitewashing and celebrating murderous, hard-core totalitarianism in the best Walter Duranty tradition. 

Social justice, with guns

Lori Berenson

The last couple of days we’ve been chronicling the life of Lori Berenson, a privileged Manhattan lass who, some two decades ago, took the $50,000 her left-wing, college-professor parents had set aside for her education and used it to bankroll her involvement in the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), a mass-murdering terrorist group in Peru. After her arrest in 1996, a military tribunal found her guilty of terrorism and sentenced her to life in prison; later, granted a trial in a civil court, she insisted – as she had from the beginning – that she was not a terrorist, that she hadn’t been part of MRTA, and that, in fact, she hadn’t even know that those fierce-looking, unkempt people living in her house were MRTA terrorists.

The three judges, however, didn’t buy her story. They concluded – correctly – that Berenson had rented the house to provide a base for her terrorist comrades, had purchased “various computer and communications gear” that they needed for their terrorist activities, and had “used press credentials as a cover to scrutinize the halls of Congress and facilitate an eventual attack” on that building. It was all true. But after having her life sentence reduced to twenty years in prison, Berenson condemned the verdict as “unjust” and once again asserted her total innocence.

A few of Berenson’s MRTA amigos

Berenson professed that she had been drawn to Peru out of love for the Peruvian people. But the Peruvian people themselves despised her. By an overwhelming margin, they were happy about the verdict. They did not appreciate the efforts of la gringa terrorista to wreak havoc in their country. However much she tried to paint herself as a noble freedom fighter on their behalf, they saw her as nothing more than a fanatical foreigner out to cause mayhem. One local journalist who covered her civilian trial said, “I think she was an idealist, but when you start messing around with violent groups, you play with fire. As intelligent as she is, it’s impossible to feel sympathy.”

On parole in Lima

We would modestly submit that, judging by all the available evidence, “intelligent” may not be the mot juste to describe Berenson. In any event, her already unconvincing efforts to distance herself from MRTA were rendered even more unconvincing by her 2003 jailhouse marriage to a fellow MRTA member, by whom she had a son in 2008. When she wasn’t enjoying conjugal visits, Berenson wrote political diatribes that her supporters posted online. Typical of these commentaries was a 2006 statement in which she asserted that “the so-called American way of life is…wrong” and that “[g]reed and individualism are not only negative character traits of some individuals, they are now the motor of our [American] society. The flourishing of the so-called free market is more important than the well-being of the people.” 

At the Lima airport

After her release on parole in 2010, Berenson acknowledged that she’d known all along that her housemates were MRTA terrorists. She also admitted to collaborating with them, but maintained that she had “never participated in acts of violence nor of bloodshed.” True, but only because she’d been taken into custody before she’d had a chance to participate in her comrades’ plan to storm the Congress.

Berenson was finally allowed to leave Peru for good in 2015. Peru, wrote one reporter, “has rid itself of a figure who was reviled to the end.” When she arrived at the Lima airport for her flight to New York, a “ruckus” erupted. “Get out of here, terrorist!” someone yelled.

Appearing on “Democracy Now!” after her release

Berenson – accompanied by her son, who’d been born behind bars and was now six years old – told journalists that “she would live with her parents until she had established herself.” Her plan, she said, was “to continue to work in social justice issues.” Pause for a moment over those words. Continue to work in social justice issues? During her years in the hoosegow, she’d often maintained that she’d matured, that she despised terrorism, and that she deeply regretted her youthful folly. But her reference to “continu[ing] to work in social justice issues” suggested that all that, too, had been a lie – that, in short, she’d never really learned a thing, and that she still viewed her involvement with a murderous terrorist group as “social justice” work.

Amy Goodman

Is this conclusion unfair? Consider what she told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! after her return to the U.S. Asked by Goodman what the MRTA was, she described it as “an organization that basically followed the example of the guerrilla movements of the 1960s…the national liberation struggles” and that “forms [sic] out of different leftist organizations that actually were participating in the efforts to return to democracy.” When Goodman noted that MRTA “was deemed a terrorist organization in Peru,” Berenson replied: “Well, everything was called terrorism in Peru.” Deep-sixing the MRTA plot to take Congressmen hostage, Berenson actually repeated the tattered old lie that she’d entered the Peruvian Congress building “as a journalist.” And, on Democracy Now!, she got away with it. 

She’d had twenty years in the slammer to engage in serious reflection on her actions, her values, and her falsehoods. But Lori Berenson came out spouting the same fatuous ideology and the same hogwash that she’d served up at the time of her arrest.

“La gringa terrorista”

MRTA guerrillas in the Japanese embassy in Lima

Yesterday we covered the early years of Lori Berenson, who dropped out of MIT to become a terrorist in Peru (after brief stints as a budding revolutionary in Nicaragua and El Salvador). In December 1996, after she and other members of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) were arrested, tried, convicted, and locked away, several of their MRTA confederates occupied the residence of the Japanese ambassador to Peru, took hostages, and demanded that Berenson and the other MRTA prisoners be released in exchange for them; instead of negotiation, however, the Peruvian government sent in special forces, who succeeded in killing all the hostage-takers.

Rhoda and Mark Berenson campaigning for Lori’s release

Meanwhile Berenson’s parents were trying other approaches to springing her from the Peruvian cárcel. In fact, they quit their jobs to devote their lives full-time to this effort. They hired a filmmaker to produce a documentary about Lori. Rhoda Berenson, Lori’s mother, wrote a book entitled Lori: My Daughter, Wrongfully Imprisoned in Peru. (Noam Chomsky wrote the foreword, Ramsey Clark the afterword.) In 2000, the New York Observer profiled Rhoda, describing her as having been “a real New York classic: a physics teacher who took dance lessons at Martha Graham, who had a subscription to the Joyce Theater, who cooked, graded papers and danced under the stars at Lincoln Center with her husband, Mark, a retired statistician who taught at Baruch College.” Now, however, her life was totally different: she and her husband were taking turns flying to Peru every other week to visit Lori and discuss their expensive legal efforts to free her.

Rod Dreher

Also in 2000, both parents went on Oprah, where, as Rod Dreher wrote in the New York Post, they “made an impassioned case for America’s support for their daughter.” Their case, alas, was based entirely on lies. When Oprah asked why Lori had been in Peru in the first place, Rhoda Berenson said, “She was there to help the poor.” The little detail of her involvement in the plotting of large-scale terrorist acts was neatly dropped down the memory hole. As Dreher noted, the two major Peruvian terrorist groups, MRTA and Shining Path, had between them “killed an estimated 35,000 Peruvians – many of them dirt-poor peasants and native people” in the previous twenty years. While admitting that Peru under Fujimori was “no model of human rights,” Dreher pointed out that secret courts of the kind that had tried Berenson had become necessary “after left-wing terrorists began assassinating judges who imprisoned their comrades.”

Lori Berenson in court

For her part, Lori made the following assertions in a 1998 statement to international human-rights organizations: “I have never been a member of the MRTA; I have never participated in the planning of a violent act, neither with the MRTA nor anybody else; neither have I ever promoted violence, and, what is more, I do not believe in violence and it would not be possible for me to participate in violence….. I am completely innocent of the horrendous charges made against me.”

All these claims would later prove to be lies. But they worked. International complaints about Berenson’s secret trial led Peruvian authorities to order a new trial by a civilian court. That event has been described as “the Peruvian equivalent of the O.J. Simpson trial, broadcast on television every day from the end of March to June this year. For Peruvian justice, it was a giant step forward: an open terrorism trial with cross-examination of witnesses.” In her closing statement to the court, Berenson said: “I am innocent of all charges against me….I have been called a terrorist, a term that has been used and abused in Peruvian society for far too many years, mostly because of the psychological impact of a concept that brings to mind indiscriminate violence designed to terrorize; irrational destructive violence; deadly, senseless terror. I am not a terrorist, and as I stated in this courtroom before, I condemn terrorism, I always have.”

We’ll finish up Lori’s story tomorrow.

Trust-fund terrorist

Lori Berenson, 2015

Born in 1969, Lori Berenson grew up in New York City, the adored, privileged daughter of two college professors. Her tendency to be a “social justice” nag manifested itself early. In her freshman year at MIT, when a dryer broke down, “she was adamant that the replacement shouldn’t be from General Electric because of the company’s involvement in producing nuclear weapons.” Around that time, she traveled with an all-female group of Quakers, apparently pro-Sandinista radicals, to Nicaragua, which was then experiencing a civil war. She also made a couple of visits to El Salvador, which was also, at the time, torn by civil war, and where, she later saidI got a sense that the world was much bigger and the suffering was much worse than I had thought.”

A building at MIT

Soon Berenson had dropped out of MIT in order to work full time for a Communist-linked Salvadoran “liberation front” while living off the $50,000 trust fund her parents had set up for her education. Dad and Mom raised no protest. “You had to see Lori and her enthusiasm, her concern,” Mom later explained. “Look, we’re academics. Education is very important to us. But Lori thought, `How can I be here reading a book when there are people who need help?’ What can you say?”

Soon after relocating to El Salvador, Berenson wed her first husband. But the marriage disintegrated within a few months, as did her passion for continuing work in El Salvador. You see, the violence ended, and her “liberation front” signed a peace accord with the government. “She had such huge hopes, but then after the accords, it became clear that they weren’t going to be fulfilled,” husband #1 later told the Village Voice. Get it? Berenson claimed to be working for peace, but when peace actually was achieved she was disappointed. She wanted to be where the action was. 

An MRTA get-together

So she moved on to another place where there was still terrorist violence – Peru. By the time she’d settled in Lima, the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) had already run up a long rap sheet of terrorist acts, from kidnappings to bank robberies to assassinations. Berenson didn’t just sign up with the MRTA: she rented a mansion in a prosperous Lima neighborhood that her fellow terrorists used as a safe house and as a storage depot for weapons and ammunition.

Over two decades later, Berenson offered this explanation as to why she’d exchanged MIT for MRTA:

I decided that I was not in agreement with the type of academia work I’d be able—you know, you could, yeah, get a degree, and then you become part of the system. And I thought that becoming part of the system somehow—you know, I mean, other people are able to use that to—and to use it very well to the benefit of social justice, but others tend to be absorbed by the system. And I didn’t want to be part of—absorbed by the system. I also, you know, had a very different—at the time, I sort of started seeing that the world has a lot less to do with what you learn in school than what you learn in life, and that the meaning of degrees is—shouldn’t be that. So it was—in part, it was my way of saying, you know, I don’t believe in this type of system.

Alberto Fujimori

Once enrolled in MRTA, Berenson posed as a journalist to gain access to the Peruvian Congress, where her “photographer,” actually a fellow MRTA member, gathered information about the building layout and security as part of a plan to storm the building, take members of Congress hostage, and exchange them for MRTA prisoners. But Berenson and her new comrades never had a chance to pull off this caper: in November 1995, she was arrested and charged with terrorism; in a police raid on the safe house, three MRTA members and one police officer were killed.

In the wake of Berenson’s arrest, then Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori described her on TV as “la gringa terrorista” – a name that has stuck ever since. She was tried by a secret military court – her absurd defense was that she hadn’t known that the people living in her house were members of the MRTA or that they were stockpiling weapons there – and was sentenced her to life in prison.

Berenson haranguing the press, 1996

After her sentencing, Berenson appeared at a press conference that is now famous in Peru. One report described her as “looking feral, her hair wild and her eyes possessed,” and says that she went “berserk on camera.” Another account put it this way: “her face twisted with anger, she marched onstage screaming.” Screeching at journalists about “hunger” and “misery” and “injustice” and “institutional violence” in Peru, Berenson insisted that the MRTA was not a gang of “criminal terrorists” but “a revolutionary movement.”

This image of Berenson as a savage, shrieking wackjob has stuck in the minds of Peruvians ever since. In the years that followed her incarceration, Berenson’s mother repeatedly insisted that this wasn’t the real Lori – that her daughter had been abused and traumatized in prison and was temporarily discombobulated. But a woman who had known Berenson back at MIT saw a picture of Berenson ranting at the media and said she immediately “recognized the expression on her face.”

More tomorrow.