Angela and Ilhan: birds of a feather

Angela Davis in her youth

In June 2016, as we reported here at the time, Angela Davis was celebrated by a feminist art center at the Brooklyn Museum for being “first in her field.” What field would that be? Diehard Communism? As a young woman she joined the American Communist Party and studied at Humboldt University in what was then the Soviet puppet state of East Germany, and has remained a devotee of Marx and Engels ever since. Or is her field domestic terrorism? In the incident that made her famous, she bought a bunch of guns that were used several days later by some pals of hers who invaded a courtroom, took the judge, prosecutor, and three jurors hostage, and ended up in a shootout with cops in which the judge was killed, the prosecutor paralyzed for life, and one of the jurors injured – the perpetrators’ goal having been to compel the release of Angela’s then husband, a Black Panther, Communist, and armed robber named George Jackson, from Soledad State Prison.

Arrested for her role in this atrocity, Davis, despite massive evidence against her, was acquitted by a jury that was plainly swayed by dishonest propaganda that painted her as a victim of racial prejudice.

Angela and Fidel

Thus began her career as a public figure – specifically, as a full-time critic of democratic capitalism, booster of Communism, and outspoken anti-Semite. She palled around with Fidel Castro in Cuba and accepted the Lenin Peace Prize in Moscow. She publicly supported the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. Twice in the 1980s, she ran for Vice President of the United States on the Communist Party line. Meanwhile she pursued an academic career, and the American university having undergone a political sea change in the 1960s and 70s, her hard-line Communist credentials only helped her advance: from San Francisco State, where she taught Ethnic Studies, she proceeded to UC Santa Cruz, where she taught in the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies departments and was appointed to the UC Presidential Chair in African American and Feminist Studies. The website of Santa Cruz, where is now listed as a “Distinguished Professor Emerita,” provides a sugarcoated version of her criminal past and calls her “a living witness to the historical struggles of the contemporary era.” Nor has her fanatical Communism kept her from being a darling of the American left, which has promoted her tirelessly as a heroine of rights for women and black people.

She stood with Fidel. She stood with Brezhnev. Now she stands with Ilhan.

Which brings us to her latest activities. On April 30, Davis joined “scores of other black women” at a Capitol Hill rally in support of Ilhan Omar, the hijab-wearing, Somali-born freshman Congresswoman from Minnesota. As the website of the left-wing TV/radio program Democracy Now put it, Omar had “been at the center of numerous right-wing attacks since taking office.” Translation: since her election in November, Omar had made a series of chillingly anti-Semitic comments, and a great many decent-minded people had had the audacity to take offense. There had been an effort to pass a resolution condemning her, but members of her own party had circled the wagons and rewritten the resolution so that it made no explicit mention of Omar and was at least as much a statement about “Islamophobia” as about anti-Semitism. Speaking to Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now, Davis maintained that Omar had been “targeted because she is an immigrant, because she is Muslim, because she is a courageous, bold black woman who speaks out in defense of Palestinians.” She added: “I am extremely proud that finally we’ve elected someone to Congress who speaks out in such a powerful way on behalf of black women, on behalf of Palestinians, on behalf of all people who are oppressed.” Birds of a feather flock together.

Angela (gray hair) seated behind Ilhan at the big rally

Davis’s support for Omar made headlines. The Huffington Post, describing Davis as a “civil rights icon,” whitewashed the comments that had gotten Omar in trouble and took Omar’s word for it that she had received a mountain of death threats. At The Nation, one Rebecca Pierce celebrated Davis and her confreres for creating “a force field of support” around Omar “in the face of Islamophobic incitement from the Trump White House.” UPI bought the death-threats claim too, running a piece under the headline “Activists rally in support of Rep. Ilhan Omar after death threats.”

As for the rally itself…well, stay tuned. We’ll get to that on Thursday.

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.