Angela Davis, Commie stooge

Davis in 2016 with Gloria Steinem and Elizabeth Sackler

As we saw on Thursday, Angela Davis, a Black Panther member, fan of the Soviet Union, and two-time Communist Party candidate for President of the U.S. who was acquitted in 1972 of a death-penalty crime of which she was clearly guilty, is now, in the eyes of many on the left, an éminence grise. From time to time she is handed major accolades; three years ago, presenting her with an award intended for women of supreme accomplishment, Elizabeth Sackler, chairman of the Brooklyn Museum, called her “the embodiment of all we hold dear.”

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Next month she was supposed to receive yet another award, this one from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which is based in her native city of Birmingham, Alabama. By giving her the Fred Shuttleworth Human Rights Award, the institute intended to recognize Davis for her support of the Palestinian people. But in the first week of January, the institute’s board announced that it had changed its collective mind. This decision was prominently reported in the New York Times, in which reporter Niraj Chokshi, in his opening paragraph, described Davis as “the activist and scholar” and conveyed the news that Davis herself was “stunned.”

Niraj Chokshi

Why did the folks in Birmingham decide not to give Angela Davis an award? Answer: because she supports a boycott of Israel. The question, of course, really should be why they decided to give her an award in the first place. Given what else is on her résumé, her hatred for Israel and Jews is just one more moral outrage among many. Another question is how the Birmingham group could have been so clueless about Davis’s attitude toward Jews and Israel; a quick Google search would have made it clear that she’s an anti-Semite of the first water. Apparently the answer is that the folks in Birmingham weren’t clueless about her Jew-hatred: they didn’t care about it until local Jews, including the people who run the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center, started making a fuss about the planned award.

Angela Davis today

In any event, what was interesting about the Times article was not the tidings about the prize itself but Chokshi’s take on it. For one thing, he identified Davis as a sometime “global hero of the left who has since earned renown for her scholarship.” Later in his article, Chokshi repeated this ridiculous claim: “she has been recognized for her scholarship and activism around feminism and against mass incarceration.” Scholarship? What scholarship? This woman has never been anything but a race hustler, ideological scold, and brazen self-promoter.

Accepting the Lenin Prize in Moscow

In a statement on Facebook, Angela described the revocation of the award as “not primarily an attack against me but rather against the very spirit of the indivisibility of justice.” It’s pretty rich for this woman – who should have been executed half a century ago or at least have spent the last half century behind bars – to talk about “justice.”

But Chokshi seemed blissfully ignorant of the facts of Davis’s history. Either that, or he chose not to share those facts with Times readers. Instead he presented the standard whitewash of the story of Davis’s trial, which depicts her as an innocent bystander who was wrongly charged:

Professor Davis became a global progressive leader nearly half a century ago. At the time, she was agitating on behalf of three California inmates accused of murdering a white prison guard when guns she had purchased were used in an attack that was aimed at freeing the inmates but left four people dead, including the assailant.

She was not present during the attack and witnesses testified that the guns were purchased for defense, but Professor Davis nonetheless spent 16 months in jail before an all-white jury acquitted her of all charges. In the interim, “Free Angela” had become a rallying cry.

Note the slick twist here: instead of sharing the facts about Davis’s masterminding of the conspiracy to free her husband – which would have led at least some readers to wonder why she was acquitted and how Davis could possibly be considered a human-rights icon – Chokshi deep-sixed Davis’s central role in the whole business, thereby prodding readers to be outraged that poor Angela had to spend sixteen months in jail and to accept the verdict as legit because the jury was “all-white.”

Chokshi also put a neat spin on Davis’s take on Israel and the Palestinians: at a time, she wrote, when “polls of young people” in the U.S. “show support growing for the Palestinian cause” and when state laws restricting contractors from boycotting Israel “are being challenged as violations of First Amendment rights” (facts that have no place in Chokshi’s article except by way of suggesting that Davis is on the right side of this issue), Davis has “joined prominent black celebrities and thinkers in comparing the struggles of Palestinians to those of African-Americans.”

Cathy Young

What Chokshi neglected to mention is that, as Cathy Young noted in a January 9 piece for the Forward, Davis’s “stance toward Israel…includes the embrace of convicted terrorists Rasmea Odeh and Marwan Barghouti.” Chokshi also ignored Davis’s slavish, see-no-evil defense of the USSR and Cuba, including, as Young pointed out, her consistent refusal to stand up for gays, women, and political prisoners in Communist countries. No, Angela Davis is the furthest thing possible from a human-rights heroine: she is a fervent lifelong enthusiast for totalitarianism, a woman whom lovers of freedom and equality should regard with nothing but contempt.

Angela Davis, human-rights heroine?

Davis in her heyday

In June 2016, when the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art presented Angela Davis with an award for “women who are first in their fields,” we provided readers with a brief account of Ms. Davis’s accomplishments.

To wit: a card-carrying American Communist Party member from her youth, she attended Communist May Day celebrations in East Berlin when it was still East Berlin, joined the Black Panthers, and studied at Humboldt University, also in East Berlin. Later teaching at UCLA, she was fired twice – the first time for her Communist Party membership, the second time (after a judge ordered her rehired) for giving “inflammatory” speeches in which, for example, she called police officers “pigs.” After her then husband, George Jackson, a fellow Communist and Black Panther leader, was sent to Soledad State Prison for pulling off five armed robberies, Davis masterminded an effort to spring him. As we wrote in 2016:

On the lam

On August 7, 1970, Jackson’s 17-year-old brother, Jonathan, entered a Marin County courtroom in which another punk, James McClain, was on trial for murdering a prison guard. Jonathan brought with him plenty of weapons, which he handed to Clain and to two other convicts who were present in the courtroom as witnesses. Jonathan and the three jailbirds then took hostage the presiding judge, Harold Haley, a father of three, along with the prosecutor and three of the jurors.

Jonathan and the convicts took their hostages out of the courthouse and drove off with them in a van. Jonathan’s goal was to hijack a plane, fly the hostages to Cuba, and exchange them for his brother’s freedom. But he didn’t get that far. At a roadblock, he and his pals got into a shootout with police. Jonathan, Judge Haley, and the two convicts were killed; the prosecutor was paralyzed for life; and a juror was injured. It was soon discovered that some of the guns Jonathan had brought into the courtroom had been purchased by Davis only days earlier. Charged with conspiracy, kidnapping, and murder and placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, Davis took it on the lam; after a few months underground, she was tracked down by cops at a Howard Johnson’s motel in Manhattan.

On trial

Her husband George having died in an escape attempt (in which he cut the throats of three prison guards), Davis was tried for her part in the attempt to spring him. The Kremlin led a worldwide campaign to paint her as mounting a courageous challenge to the capitalist system. Useful idiots like Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Despite ample evidence of guilt, Davis was found not guilty. Her acquittal was later compared to that in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, in that both defendants had lawyers who successfully painted them as victims of racism.

With one of her heroes

Now world-famous, Davis spent a few years in Cuba, went to Moscow to accept the Lenin Prize, and twice ran for vice president of the U.S. on the Communist Party line. For many on the left, she served as a feminist icon and a symbol of brave resistance to racist oppression. She has taught at many major universities and is now a “Distinguished Professor Emerita” at the University of California, Santa Cruz. And her distinction has been ratified by awards, including the 2016 honor from the Brooklyn Museum.

She was scheduled to receive yet another accolade next month – namely, the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award, which is presented annually by a civil-rights organization in her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. But during the first week of January came a shocking announcement: Angela Davis wouldn’t be getting the award after all. What happened? We’ll get to that on Tuesday.

The Communist Party isn’t radical enough for Johnny E. Williams

During the last two days we’ve been looking at sociology professor Johnny EricTrin Williams, who, in June, over two decades after earning his Ph.D., finally did something to attract notice beyond the Hartford, Connecticut, campus of Trinity College, where he teaches: he wrote a couple of tweets in which he basically called for race war.

Johnny Eric Willams

One thing that’s interesting about working on this website is how you keep running into the same people. Googling away for clues to Williams’s past, we found very little – let’s just say he’s not exactly ambitious or prolific – but one thing we did run across was a document that linked Williams to a couple of our old pals on this site, namely world-class race hustler Cornel West, who is currently on the Harvard faculty, and Bob Avakian, head of the Communist Party USA. The document was a statement by an organization calling itself “Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal.”

Mumia Abu-Jamal

Mumia, of course, is a former Black Panther and cop-killer who was sentenced to death in 1982, whereupon bien pensant types around the world rallied to his support, presenting his conviction as a symbol of American injustice and racism and campaigning to have his sentence commuted to life imprisonment. That effort eventually bore fruit in 2001; Mumia is now serving a life sentence in a Pennsylvania prison.

Bob Avakian

But on to the statement by the “Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal,” or EMAJ for short. The statement was critical of a November 15, 2014, event at New York’s Riverside Church, where Avakian and West discussed “Revolution and Religion: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion.” EMAJ, which noted that it had “supported the event beforehand,” was nonetheless unhappy with the discussion because of its “singular focus on one predominating voice, of its disrespect for black radical leadership and all leaders of color, and of its failure to uphold the radical democratic values needed in revolutionary movements.”

Cornel West

In other words, West and Avakian, the latter of whom, at least, is an advocate of violent, murderous totalitarian revolution in the United States, were not radical enough for the members of EMAJ. The EMAJ statement went on to quote an essay by Mumia and Angela Davis, who, as we’ve seen on this site, was an accessory to murder. The essay envisioned “a socialist future” that would involve “the abolition of institutions that advance the dominance of any one group over any other”; in writing their essay, they drew on “Black, indigenous and other traditions.”

Avakian and West at the Riverside event

This, complained the EMAJ, was something that West and Avakian, but mainly Avakian, had failed to do at the Riverside event. In the view of EMAJ, Avakian, who is white, had taken up too much time, which “was disrespectful of Dr. West,” who is black. To EMAJ, this amounted to “an implicit racism” and a sense of “white privilege and white supremacy.” EMAJ condemned “what we witnessed at Riverside: one white revolutionary lecturing for more than two hours while a Black revolutionary sat on the stage. This is not what revolution looks like in the U.S.”

The EMAJ statement was signed by fifteen individuals, most of whose listed affiliations with academic institutions – among them Evergreen State College, Columbia University, and Union and Princeton theological seminaries. Williams was one of them. This, then, is the kind of nonsense in which he has been involved in recent years when he might have been engaged in serious sociological research.

Matthew Hughey

Oh, well. The good news is that on June 26, the president of Trinity College put Williams on a leave of absence for his racist Facebook and Twitter posts. The bad news: the American Association of University Professors criticized Trinity for violating Williams’s “academic freedom” we suspect he’ll be back soon enough. Colleagues, too, rallied around Williams. From Inside HigherEd: “Matthew Hughey, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut and friend of Williams’s, said he ‘was merely the latest target of a campaign by the right-wing white supremacist outrage machine with the goal of silencing academics’ working to eliminate oppression.” (We’ve previously discussed Hughey on this site, by the way.) Our guess: Williams will be back in the classroom soon enough, likely doubling down on his hatred and infecting heaven knows how many students with it.

Rasmea Odeh, terrorist and feminist

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Linda Sansour

Recently we looked at Linda Sarsour, one of the organizers of the January 21 Women’s March. Less than two months later, on March 8, another mass women’s event was held: the so-called Day Without a Woman, which, according to its official website, sought to recognize “the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system – while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity.”

Why another large-scale action so soon after the first? Well, they were meant to be two very different kinds of actions – the first, a march; the second, a sort of “general strike,” an “international day of struggle.” The website for A Day Without A Woman called on women to “take the day off, from paid and unpaid labor,” to “[a]void shopping for one day (with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses),” and to “[w]ear RED in solidarity with A Day Without A Woman.” The organizers also declared their solidarity with “the ‘Bodega strike’ lead [sic] by Yemeni immigrant store owners in New York City and the Day Without Immigrants across the U.S.”

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Rasmea Yousef Odeh

Now, about those organizers. As we’ve discussed on this site, one of the four top names behind the Women’s March on January 21, Linda Sarsour, is a fierce supporter of sharia law. As it happens, one of the organizers of A Day Without A Woman is Rasmea Yousef Odeh, who does Sarsour one better: not only is she a sharia enthusiast – she’s a convicted terrorist.

Here’s the story. Back in 1969, Odeh, then a university student, was involved in the bombing of a crowded Jerusalem supermarket. Two students from Hebrew University, Leon Kanner (21) and Eddie Joffe (22), were killed; nine others were wounded. A second bomb at the same site was defused. Four days later, a bomb went off at the British Consulate. Odeh was involved in that bombing, too.

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The Jerusalem supermarket after the bombing, 1969

Odeh’s guilt was beyond doubt. She was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which the U.S. State Department considers a terrorist organization and which took “credit” for both bombings. Explosives and bomb-making materials were found in her home. Odeh was sentenced to life in 1970 but after ten years in prison was released, along with several dozen other terrorists, in an exchange for an IDF soldier held captive by the PFLP.

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The graves of Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner

In the mid 1990s, she moved to the U.S., where she eventually became a citizen. She was involved in activism on behalf of Palestinian women in Israeli jails and became associate director of the Chicago-based Arab American Action Network. Four years ago, it was discovered that she had failed to reveal her criminal background when submitting her immigration application. She was convicted of immigration fraud in November 2014, stripped of her U.S. citizenship, and spent a year and a half in prison. In February 2016, however, an appeals court vacated her conviction; last December, she was granted a new trial, which began in January.

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Angela Davis and friend

“All right,” you may say, “Odeh may be a terrorist. But that doesn’t mean the event was illegitimate. After all, she’s not the only organizer.” Alas, one of the other organizers was Angela Davis, the longtime Communist and Black Panther who was once on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List and was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize. (We wrote about her last year, here and here.) Another was Tithi Bhattacharya, who, as Kyle Smith noted in the New York Post, “praised Maoism in an essay for the International Socialist Review.” These are the people who are presenting themselves as the voices of ordinary American women.

“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.

Angela Davis, first in her field

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Angela Davis (center), with Gloria Steinem and Elizabeth Sackler

In early June, the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art –which is named for the historian who is the current president of that museum – presented Angela Davis with the 2016 Sackler Center First Award, which honors “women who are first in their fields.”

Who is Angela Davis? Her name may mean nothing to most younger Americans. To those over a certain age, however, she’s a very familiar figure.

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Davis in her heyday

Born in Alabama in 1944, Davis joined the American Communist Party at an early age. While studying at the University of Frankfurt, she took part in activities sponsored by the radical Socialist German Student Union and attended May Day celebrations in what was then East Berlin. She later joined the Black Panthers and received a doctorate in philosophy from Humboldt University, also in East Berlin. She went on to teach at UCLA, where the regents fired her in 1969 because of her Communist Party membership. Rehired by the university on orders from a judge, she was fired again after using “inflammatory language” (such as calling the police “pigs”) in several speeches.

Then she became world-famous. It happened like this.

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George Jackson

Davis was in love with, and secretly married to, a gangster named George Jackson, who, like her, was a Communist and Black Panther leader. After he committed five armed robberies, he was caught, tried, convicted, and incarcerated at Soledad State Prison in California. The Black Panthers later published a collection of his prison letters; Davis, for her part, spearheaded an effort to secure his release, along with that of two fellow Marxists who were also confined at Soledad. The men were collectively known as the Soledad Brothers. 

On August 7, 1970, Jackson’s 17-year-old brother, Jonathan, entered a Marin County courtroom in which another punk, James McClain, was on trial for murdering a prison guard. Jonathan brought with him plenty of weapons, which he handed to McClain and to two other convicts who were present in the courtroom as witnesses. Jonathan and the three jailbirds then took hostage the presiding judge, Harold Haley, a father of three, along with the prosecutor and three of the jurors. 

- - Group leaves the the Civic Center with a shotgun taped around Judge Harold Haley's neck. The inmate at left, James McClain, was fatally wounded in the van as it attempted escape. (IJ photo/Roger Bockrath)
James McClain (with gun, left), Jonathan Jackson, and comrades leave the the Marin County Civic Center with Judge Haley and other hostages (note the shotgun taped around Haley’s neck)

Jonathan and the convicts took their hostages out of the courthouse and drove off with them in a van. Jonathan’s goal was to hijack a plane, fly the hostages to Cuba, and exchange them for his brother’s freedom. But he didn’t get that far. At a roadblock, he and his pals got into a shootout with police. Jonathan, Judge Haley, and the two convicts were killed; the prosecutor was paralyzed for life; and a juror was injured. It was soon discovered that some of the guns Jonathan had brought into the courtroom had been purchased by Davis only days earlier. Charged with conspiracy, kidnapping, and murder and placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, Davis took it on the lam; after a few months underground, she was tracked down by cops at a Howard Johnson’s motel in Manhattan.

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Davis is taken into custody

Meanwhile George Jackson had died. Using a gun smuggled into his cell (he was now at San Quentin), perhaps by his lawyer, Jackson, in consort with six fellow prisoners, took three guards hostage, bound them, and cut their throats. Jackson was then shot to death trying to make his escape. His comrades in the American Communist Party described it as a “murder.”

As for Angela Davis, she went on trial. Among American Communist leaders, there was disagreement about what position the Party should take on her case. For some, her actions were a bridge too far. For others – well, we’ll get around to that tomorrow.