Catching up with Yvette Felarca, fascist “anti-fascist”

Yvette Felarca

In April, we spent most of a week here discussing Yvette Felarca, a leader of “The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights, and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary,” known, for short, as “By Any Means Necessary,” and, for shorter, as BAMN. It’s a California group, founded in 1995, that has spent the last two decades holding protests, bringing lawsuits, and committing acts of violence – or, to use a word that both the FBI and the Defense Department have used to describe its activities, terrorism.

Felarca, who is also a middle-school humanities teacher in Berkeley, has participated fully in BAMN’s storm-trooper-type brutality – beating, rock-throwing, setting fires, breaking store windows, and so on – which she excuses as a legitimate means of defending America against the words of Nazis and fascists.

In June of last year, she was arrested at a demonstration in Sacramento; at her arraignment, which didn’t take place until August of this year, she was charged with “felony assault by means of force likely to inflict great bodily injury and two misdemeanor counts of inciting and participating in a riot.” (Reportedly, she had punched a man in the abdomen and told him to “get the fuck out of our streets.”)

This past February, Felarca was in the center of the action when vioent BAMN members managed to keep journalist Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking at UC Berkeley. Appearing on Fox News afterwards, Felarca charged Yiannopoulos with leading “a movement of genocide.”

Felarca experienced no professional blowback for her arrest in Sacramento or for her participation in the violence in Berkeley. At the latter event, the Berkeley police stood down. The mayor of Berkeley, asked for a comment, echoed Felarca’s absurd claim that Yiannopoulos was a white supremacist. Despite calls for Felarca’s firing, the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) kept her on. So things stood when we last looked in on Yvette.

Felarca being taken into custody on September 26

Here’s an update. On September 26, members of “Patriot Prayer” – a conservative Christian group based in Portland, Oregon – held a small, peaceful rally at the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way in Berkeley. The speakers were “quickly…drowned out by protesters” from BAMN and another group, Refuse Fascism. (The latter is a campaign run by the Revolutionary Communist Party; BAMN itself is an RCF spinoff.) The “Patriot Prayer” contingent then marched down Telegraph Avenue to People’s Park, only to be trailed by the leftists; arriving at People’s Park, the conservatives began holding speeches, in response to which the BAMN and Refuse Fascism members heckled them. And worse.

By the end of the day, Felarca – who at the time was out on bail – was in cuffs, arrested on suspicion of rioting, obstruction, and battery. Along with two fellow BAMN members, both male, she was held at Santa Rita Jail. Her bail was set at $20,000. (The bail for her BAMN colleagues, who had apparently wreaked less havoc, was set at $10,000 for one and $5,000 for the other.) That evening, a spokesman for the school district replied to a query about Felarca by saying that it was “monitoring developments” and that, “[s]hould an occasion arise for the District to take action, we will respond in an appropriate manner, in keeping with federal law, the California Education Code and the BUSD collective bargaining agreement with our teachers.”

In other words, when a Berkeley schoolteacher is arrested at multiple public events for committing acts of violence, that, in itself, isn’t enough reason for school authorities to “take action.” One wonders what BUSD’s response would’ve been if Felarca had been on the other side.

Felarca will be arraigned on November 8. In the meantime, presumably, she’s still spending her weekdays in front of a Berkeley classroom. One can only imagine what she is cramming into her pupils’ heads in the guise of “humanities.”

 

The Weathermen: from terrorists to professors

We’ve been looking at the Weather Underground, or Weathermen, described by Arthur M. Eckstein in his book Bad Moon Rising as “the most notorious American radical group committed to political violence in the late 1960s and early 1970s.”

14 Oct 1970 --- Washington: Replacing one woman with another, the FBI, October 14, added to its 10 Most Wanted list of fugitives, Bernardine Rae Dohrn, (shown in FBI flier), a self-proclaimed Communist revolutionary who advocates widespread terrorist bombings. In putting her on the list in place of the captured Black militant, Angela Davis, the FBI described Miss Dohrn, 28, as a reputed underground leader of the "Violence-Oriented Weatherman Faction of Students for a Democratic Society". --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

As we’ve noted, J. Edgar Hoover was desperate to bring them down. Yet when President Nixon tried to get him to employ illegal means to gather intelligence on the organization, Hoover resisted. Eventually, however, at White House urging and with Justice Department approval, Hoover’s men bugged the homes and phones of Weathermen friends, relatives, and supporters. Yet all their efforts proved to be unavailing. The Weathermen had gone underground, and the FBI couldn’t find them.

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L. Patrick Gray

Hoover died in May 1972 and was replaced by L. Patrick Gray; before the month was over, the Weathermen set off a huge bomb in the Pentagon. (Today, the ease with which they managed to do it seems mind-boggling: “A female member of Weather had simply walked into the vast building along with crowds of civilian employees to scout a suitable location for a bomb, then had returned the next day, again simply walking in. She placed the bomb in a women’s restroom.”) No one was hurt, but the bomb caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage. “Under Gray,” writes Eckstein, “capturing the Weathermen became the main task of the Bureau’s entire Domestic Intelligence Division.” Though hampered by a June 1972 court ruling that effectively forbade most of the Weathermen wiretaps, the war on the Weathermen continued. Yet, in Eckstein’s account, it was a clumsy war, fought against a kind of enemy the FBI had never faced before.

kathie-boudin-fbi-posterIn the end, indeed, the downfall of the Weathermen was the result less of effective field work by the FBI than of “an aspect of traditional Marxist-Leninist political life that had bedeviled the American far Left from its origins: ideological division and disagreement, combined with savage factionalism.” What happened was this: in the mid 1970s, with the radical counterculture rapidly evaporating and the mainstream culture itself becoming more accepting of far-left ideas, Weathermen top dog Bill Ayers and others tried to steer the group away from violent underground revolution and toward open community organizing – toward, that is, the “education” (read: radicalization) of the working class and an emphasis on addressing practical political issues. The goal – Leninist revolution – was the same; only the method was different.

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Clayton van Lydegraf

But other members of the group, under the leadership of an old Stalinist named Clayton van Lydegraf, revolted, declaring themselves to be the real Weather Underground and returning with new brio to the business of planting bombs. They began by planning a deadly attack on the office of California state senator John Briggs. But they turned out to be as careless as they were violent. Unlike the earlier incarnation of the Weathermen, this one proved to be much easier for the FBI to penetrate. The Bureau even managed to plant an undercover agent in Lydegraf’s home – as a roommate. Before the Weathermen could carry out their bombing of Briggs’s office, then, the FBI managed to arrest its five top leaders – an action that, in one fell swoop, cracked the back of the national Weather Underground.

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Kathy Boudin today

Some of them went to prison, but not for long. And thanks to the entry of leftist counterculture values into the mainstream of elite American culture (especially the academy), many former Weathermen enjoyed successful post-terrorist careers and, in time, came to be treated as heroic veterans of the legendary Sixties. Bill Ayers became a professor of education at the University of Illinois – Chicago; Bernadine Dohrn is a law professor at Northwestern; Cathy Wilkerson teaches math in Brooklyn; Mark Rudd is a professor of math in New Mexico; and Kathy Boudin who was in that house on West 11th Street when it exploded in 1971 and who was later convicted of felony murder in connection with a 1981 Brink’s truck robbery in Nyack, New York, in which two police officers and a security guard were killed is now an adjunct professor at Columbia University.

BAMN: the “anti-fascist” fascists

A BAMN protest

The organization’s full name is a mouthful: “The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights, and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary.” It’s generally referred to “By Any Means Necessary” or by the acronym BAMN. Founded in California in 1995, reportedly as a “front group for an obscure Detroit-based Trotskyist political party called the Revolutionary Workers League,” it’s spent most of the years since then participating in protests and litigation in defense of affirmative action. At times it has gone beyond mere protesting to physical violence and vandalism, disrupting government meetings.

Outside the Sacramento State Capitol after the BAMN action

During the last couple of years, however, nationwide awareness of BAMN has soared – largely owing to the increasing scale and aggressiveness of its activities. In December 2014, in collaboration with Black Lives Matter, it blocked traffic on Interstate 80 in the Bay Area – a mass action that led to the arrest of 210 people. At a June 2016 outside the California State Capitol in  Sacramento, brutal BAMN members sent ten people to the hospital with stab wounds. Both the FBI and the Defense Department have described BAMN as being involved in terrorism.

The Berkeley riot

On February 1 of this year, BAMN made what were probably its biggest headlines yet when it organized an out-and-out riot at UC Berkeley that succeeded in closing down a scheduled speech by conservative journalist Milo Yiannopoulos. During that rampage, the university and city police stood down while about 150 BAMN thugs dressed in black behaved brutally, destroyed college, city, and private property both on campus and off, and threw “rocks and incendiary devices” at cops.

Yvette Felarca

One of BAMN’s more high-profile leaders is Yvette Felarca, a teacher at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Middle School. At the above-mentioned Sacramento rally, Felarca was reported by the San Jose Mercury-News to have “shoved a man to the ground and instigated a brawl.” Also, a video showwed her at the Sacramento rally, punching a man in the stomach and yelling “Get the fuck off our streets.” When the news of her conduct spread, thousands of outraged Berkeley parents signed a petition demanding her dismissal. In response to the complaints, the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) put her on paid leave and launched an “investigation” – one of those things that academic administrators do to make it look as if they’re doing something.

Six weeks later she was back on the job. BUSD spokesman Mark Coplan served up one of the most jaw-dropping excuses of all time. “It’s one thing if it was during a school day, but she is on vacation,” Coplan said. “We don’t have any authority or business to judge what an employee does in her off time.”

And so on February 1 there she was in Berkeley, orchestrating yet another BAMN riot.

More tomorrow.

Becoming a traitor

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J. Edgar Hoover

After World War II, there would be much talk about the “paranoia” about Communism that supposedly could be found in the corridors of power in Washington, D.C. But during the years between the world wars, the problem in the nation’s capital was the opposite. Almost anybody working at, say, the State or War department could easily access classified documents. Communist sympathies on the part of high-level officials were accepted with a shrug by the FBI and other agencies. J. Edgar Hoover and his men were all but oblivious to the danger of Soviet spying.

In fact there were plenty of Soviet spies in Washington, some of whom held very high-level positions in the U.S. government. Those who worked for the NKVD (the forerunner of the KGB) reported to J. Peters, a Hungarian who had been born Sándor Goldberger and who worked out of the American Communist Party’s offices in New York. In 1934, Peters sent one of his underlings, Hede Massing, to Washington to try to enlist State Department official Noel Field, as Kati Marton reports in her fascinating biography of Field. As it happened, Field was also being wooed by a friend at State, Alger Hiss, who worked for the Kremlin’s military intelligence agency.

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Hede Massing

Field hesitated, then finally signed up with the NKVD in the fall of 1935.

Spying proved easy. These were days, he later recalled, when the “most secret documents… circulated from hand to hand.”

His new NKVD colleagues noticed several things about Field. One was his incredible naivete. Another was the “innate need for a guiding faith to imbue his life with meaning”: this “made him a devoted Communist.” Yet another was his desperate need to obey orders: he was a follower, not a leader or original thinker. “Noel could be strong only when he was doing what his superiors told him to do,” his friend and fellow spy Paul Massing later observed. Then there was his absolute belief in the goodness and rightness of Stalin and the Party. “For Noel,” Massing said, “the leaders of the Revolution can do no wrong.”

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Noel Field (right) at the League of Nations, 1939

Leaving the State Department in 1936, Field went to Geneva to work for the League of Nations – and to continue his espionage work. The next year, this young man who’d been drawn to Communism by a desire to usher in a better world was an accessory to the assassination of Ignaz Reisz, a veteran Soviet spy chief who’d dared to complain to Stalin about the show trials and executions of loyal Communists that were then underway in the USSR. Field had no remorse about this coldblooded murder. “He was a traitor,” Field said. “He deserved to die.”

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Gen. Walter Krivitsky

Field wasn’t troubled by the show trials, at which heroes of the Russian Revolution were railroaded and condemned to death. Other Communists, however, were outraged. Among them was Field’s handler, General Walter Krivitsky, who defected to the U.S., wrote exposés of Stalinism in the Saturday Evening Post, and ended up being murdered by Soviet agents in a Washington hotel room – a victim of Western officials’ unawareness of just how brutal the Kremlin was. (Krivitsky had actually told British Intelligence about the spies who’d later be known as the Cambridge Five, but they, like the FBI, had responded with a shrug.)

In 1938, a former colleague told the House Un-American Activities Committee that Field was a Communist. But thanks to official Washington’s – and America’s – lackadaisical attitude toward Communism during the FDR years, nothing happened to him. At about the same time, Field’s State Department friend Larry Duggan was also revealed to be a Soviet agent, but he, too, got away with it. Indeed, instead of being arrested or at least fired, Duggan was – incredibly – promoted: during most of World War II he served as assistant to Secretary of State Cordell Hull, a position that provided him with access to the nation’s most secret documents.

More tomorrow.

Sons of the KGB

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Alex and Tim shortly after their parents’ arrest

Quick recap: yesterday we started telling the story of Tim and Alex Foley, two brothers who thought they and their parents were Canadians but discovered, as the result of a 2010 FBI raid on their Cambridge, Massachusetts, home, that their folks were not only Russians but Russian spies, living in deep cover since Soviet days. The family’s tale was a key inspiration for the current FX series, The Americans. 

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“Donald Heathfield” and “Tracey Foley”

When “Donald Heathfield” and “Tracey Foley” were taken into custody and deported to Russia, the story made headlines. Since then, both brothers – who, then aged twenty and sixteen, were obliged to follow their parents to Russia, but left as soon as they could – have kept a low profile, but they agreed to speak to the Guardian as part of an effort to regain their Canadian citizenship, which was rescinded after their parents’ arrests. Both young men insist that they have no sense of belonging to their parents’ homeland. In a recent affidavit to a Canadian court, Tim wrote: “I do not have any attachment to Russia, I do not speak the language, I do not know many friends there, I have not lived there for any extended periods of time and I do not want to live there.” Alex, for his part, told the Guardian: “I feel like I have been stripped of my own identity for something I had nothing to do with.” Although both boys’ relationship with their parents has been “difficult” and “sad” (they visit them in Russia every few months), Alex, after having thought long and hard about “whether he hated them or felt betrayed,” claims he eventually decided “that they were the same people who had raised him lovingly, whatever secrets they hid.”

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Tim and Alex in Bangkok, 2011

Speaking on behalf of both himself as his brother, Alex also says this about his parents: “I’m glad they had a cause they believed in…but I wish the world wouldn’t punish me for their choices.” Ponder that sentence. Admittedly, one can’t expect kids who’ve been put in such circumstances to come out clear-headed. But if we were counseling Alex, we’d suggest he’d put some more thought into his assertion that he’s “glad” his parents found a “cause” to serve – and into his apparent conviction that it’s “the world” that’s responsible for the punishment he and Tim have undergone. Granted, perhaps he has a profound psychological need to cling to the belief that his parents, in spite of everything, were “loving” – but as someone at the threshold of adulthood he must address the question squarely: just how loving was it for “Don” and “Tracey” to put their children in such a situation? For people who made the choice they did – and who clung to it even after living for years in the free world, all the while knowing that their Western-raised sons might ultimately have to pay dearly for their deception – “loving” is, shall we say, hardly the mot juste.

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Tim and Alex in Kazakhstan, 2013

To be sure, although they spent decades operating in the same ideological territory as many of the unsavory characters we’ve studied on this site, “Don” and “Tracey,” as born-and-bred Russians who chose to become KGB spies, don’t qualify as “useful stooges.” On the contrary, they were full-fledged pillars of Soviet totalitarianism (and, later, of whatever you want to call Putin’s own distinctive brand of thuggish tyranny). They and they alone created the nightmare in which their sons are now living. By all means, give Tim and Alex back their Canadian passports; but first make certain that they understand completely just who is responsible for their “punishment” – and just who is being “loving.” In other words, make sure that these two young men, who have been so intent on completing their educations, learn perhaps the most important thing they can ever learn: that their parents weren’t serving just any “cause,” but were, in fact, fighting to eradicate the very freedom that Tim and Alex now seek to live under again.  

 

Spy story

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Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as deep-cover KGB spies in The Americans

In early May, the Guardian recounted a fascinating true story that, as it happens, helped inspire the current FX series The Americans. It’s about a Canadian couple, Donald Heathfield (a consultant) and Tracey Foley (a realtor), and their two sons, Tim and Alex Foley, who, on June 27, 2010, when they were living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, were in the middle of celebrating Tim’s twentieth birthday when “a team of armed, black-clad men holding a battering ram…streamed into the house, screaming, ‘FBI!’ Another team entered from the back; men dashed up the stairs, shouting at everyone to put their hands in the air.”

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The family’s house in Cambridge

Some of the G-men drove Don and Tracey away in handcuffs, while others remained behind to search the house. From those investigators, the boys learned that their parents were Russian spies who’d been living under deep cover since Soviet times, using names stolen from long-dead Canadians. Don was really Andrei Bezrukov; Tracey was Elena Vavilova. The deep-cover system was a well-known KGB specialty (no other country has ever trained spies to pose as foreigners) but it was widely believed to have been shuttered after the fall of the Iron Curtain. On the contrary, as it turned out, old KGB hand Vladimir Putin saw to it that it remained alive and well.

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“Tracey” with Tim in 1991

Visiting his parents in prison after their arrest, Alex, then sixteen, didn’t ask them about the charges: “I refused to let myself be convinced they were actually guilty of anything….They were facing life in prison, and if I was to testify, I would have to completely believe they were innocent.” On their mother’s advice, Tim and Alex decided (rather bemusingly) to “escape the media circus” by flying to Moscow, where they’d never set foot. There, colleagues of their parents in the SVR (the KGB’s successor agency) met them at the airport, showed them around town, and introduced them to relatives they hadn’t known existed. After a few days their parents joined them, having been exchanged, along with eight other SVR operatives, for Russians who’d been spying for the West. They “were welcomed back…as heroes.”

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“Donald” with Alex and Tim in 1999

It turned out the FBI had been on to “Don” and “Tracey” for years. Their home had been bugged. G-men had scoured Foley’s safe-deposit box as far back as 2001. Tim denies a 2012 report that his parents had told him the truth “long before the arrest” and that he’d agreed to train as a “second-generation spy” for Russia. On the contrary, both sons insist they have no affection for their parents’ homeland. Tim, now 25, says they both underwent a “real identity crisis” when, having been stripped of their Canadian citizenship, they were given Russian passports and a new surname (Vavilov). Both maintain they were eager to leave Russia ASAP. Tim, after completing college there, was able to go to London to earn an MBA; Alex, however, couldn’t get visas to Canada, the UK, or France; now 21, he is studying in an unnamed (but presumably less desirable) country in Europe. What’s the deal with them now? Tune in tomorrow. 

Stooge in a clerical collar: Daniel Berrigan

When the Catholic priest Daniel Berrigan died on April 30 at age 95, the mainstream media painted him as a well-nigh heroic figure. This was, we were told, a man of deep and contemplative faith, a crusader for peace, a consoler of the sick, an advocate for the poor, and – on top of it all – a gifted poet.

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Daniel Berrigan

Not until a couple of dozen paragraphs into its obituary did the New York Times bother to note Berrigan’s anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian slants (he was so ugly about Israel that Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg accused him of “old-fashioned theological anti-Semitism”), his reprehensible silence on the scandal surrounding sexual abuse of children by his fellow clergy, and his apparently congenital failure to criticize Communism.  A follow-up profile in the Times by Jim Dwyer omitted these unpleasant details entirely, painting Berrigan as a veritable saint who “filled his life to the brim with poetry and protest, preaching and witness” and spoke “from a distinctly Catholic perspective against war, capital punishment, abortion, bigotry and indifference to the poor.” 

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With his brother on the cover of Time

Other mainstream media took more or less the same approach, either overlooking his views on Jews, child abuse, and the USSR or treating them as minor flaws in an otherwise stellar character. On the contrary, Berrigan’s softness on Communism, in particular, was utterly inextricable from the ideology that motivated him throughout his career. A founder of what became known as the Catholic New Left, Berrigan – along with his brother, Philip, who was also a priest (and who died in 2002) – raided draft boards during the Vietnam War, pouring blood on some selective-service records while burning others with homemade napalm. (For the latter act, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced, only to take it on the lam; the law eventually caught up with him and he spent two years in the slammer.)

Berrigan’s protest activities, legal and otherwise, invariably involved vicious rhetoric about America – rhetoric which, as the historian Michael B. Friedland has written, “did nothing to dispel the image of activist priests as fuzzy-headed moralists.” By contrast, when asked about the Communist threat, Berrigan dismissed it outright: “communism as an issue in the Vietnam war is a myth,” he insisted.

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With Zinn in Hanoi

What exactly was Berrigan’s view of Communism? More than a few observers maintain that he was a Communist himself. “Daniel romanticized the North Vietnamese,” one commentator has written. To revisit his writings about them is to conclude that that’s putting it mildly. One thing is for sure: he was no fan of any aspect of American culture or the American political and economic system; routinely, he condemned his own country as violent, genocidal, and imperialistic, a nation bereft of spirit, of virtue.

We do know this: in 1968, Berrigan traveled to Hanoi with Howard Zinn, who would later become famous as the author of the 1980 propaganda tract-cum-bestselling textbook The People’s History of the United States. In Hanoi, the two men met with North Vietnamese officials, who handed over to them three U.S. Air Force POWs to take home with them to America, supposedly as tokens of good will and as a first step toward a negotiated peace.

berriganbookIt is interesting that of all the people Berrigan could have had as travel companions, he went with Zinn. As has been well established in recent years by FBI files and multiple other records, Zinn was at the time an active member of the U.S. Communist Party. He had joined the Party at the height of Stalin’s postwar power, and when interviewed by the FBI in 1953 he flat-out lied about his Party membership. Zinn later openly supported the Castro regime in Cuba and, during the Vietnam War, cheered unequivocally for the Communists to win.

No, Berrigan’s readiness to link arms with Zinn doesn’t necessary indicate that he, too, was a card-carrying Communist. At the very least, however, it shows that he had no problem associating himself and his cause with that of a man who was explicitly rooting not for peace but for the enemy’s victory. Indeed, in Night Flight to Hanoi, the memoir Berrigan later published about their “peace mission,” Berrigan calls Zinn “my cherished brother and friend and Old Testament man of heart and guts.” Zinn wrote the introduction to the book, which provides a fascinating window on Berrigan’s mindset; we’ll riffle through a bit of it tomorrow.

Heroes, martyrs, saints: reinventing the Rosenbergs

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Ethel and Julius Rosenberg

Although it’s been over sixty years since the Stalinist atom spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for treason at Sing Sing, a federal prison in New York, they continue to be a cause célèbre for many persons who weren’t even born until long after their deaths. The history of the widespread and perverse loyalty to the Rosenbergs’ memory is very much worth pondering, because it reveals a great deal about the psychopathology of the very many useful stooges for whom the betrayal of a free society in the name of mass-murdering totalitarianism is not only defensible but heroic.

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Ron Radosh

Over the years, some of their champions have argued that the Rosenbergs were totally innocent; others, that he was guilty as charged but she was innocent; still others, that they were both guilty, but it wasn’t a big deal, either because the state secrets they passed to the Kremlin weren’t all that important or because their actions were understandable, and thus forgivable, or even downright praiseworthy – the U.S., in the view of these apologists, being an oppressive nation unworthy of the Rosenbergs’ loyalty and the USSR under Stalin a shining symbol of socialist hope. As Ron Radosh, author of The Rosenberg File (1983), put it in 2011, the case was for a long time “a linchpin of the American Left’s argument that the United States government was not only evil during the Cold War years, but was ready to kill regular American citizens because they were against the Truman administration’s anti-Soviet policies.”

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Tony Kushner

Indeed, for many on the left, the Rosenbergs are nothing less than heroes. The makers of a video entitled “Martyrs for Peace” said the following about them: “Both tried to make the world a better place for everyone. Both were courageous.” The socialist playwright Tony Kushner made the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg a character in Angels in America, his much-lauded, award-winning piece of dramatic agitprop. Kushner didn’t just treat Ethel sympathetically; he turned her into a saint, serving up what one sympathetic writer has described as “a powerful portrayal of [her] strength and humanity.”

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Ethel Sings: a promotional photo

It goes on. As recently as last year, New York theatergoers could buy tickets to a play called Ethel Sings: The Unsung Song of Ethel Rosenberg, in which author Joan Beber represented Ethel as a tragic heroine forced to choose between loyalty to her children (i.e., testify and live) and loyalty to her husband (stay silent and die). In the theater program, the play’s director described the Rosenbergs as “liberals, Jews, labor activists, and communist sympathizers in an era of virulent anti-Communism and anti-Semitism.” (For such people, it’s always anti-Communism, not Communism itself, that’s “virulent.”)

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Robert Meeropol

Among the most dedicated apologists for the Rosenbergs have been their sons, Michael and Robert. For a long time they fiercely insisted on the innocence of their parents – who, in a letter written to the boys (then aged six and ten) just before the executions, begged them: “Always remember that we were innocent.” After the Rosenbergs’ death, Michael and Robert were adopted by a couple named Meeropol and took their surname; when the boys grew up and became political commentators and professors (Michael is a retired economics prof at Western New England College; Robert has taught anthropology at the same institution), they both made a busy side career out of defending their parents, relentlessly smearing the Rosenbergs’ critics, accusing those critics of proffering false information, and charging the FBI with fabricating evidence.

1990 PHOTO OF MICHAEL MEEROPOL, SON OF JULIUS AND ETHEL ROSENBERG AT THE ROSENBERG FUND FOR CHILDREN IN SPRINGFIELD.
Michael Meeropol

Together, the Meeropols wrote a 1975 book about their parents called We Are Your Sons; in the novel The Book of Daniel (1971), E. L. Doctorow presented a sympathetic account of a fictional couple based on the Rosenbergs, whose life is viewed retrospectively through the eyes of their son. (It’s surely no coincidence that in 2011, Michael, who now teaches at the City University of New York, recommended Kushner for an honorary CUNY degree.) Once, in an article, Radosh addressed one of the sons directly: “For your own sake, I hope you are mentally prepared for the inevitable day when the KGB’s own archives reveal that your parents were guilty. Get ready, because it’s going to be soon.”

Well, that day finally came. The relevant KGB records were declassified, and secret Soviet messages that had been intercepted and decrypted by U.S. intelligence were also made public. And they proved what Radosh knew they would. Many major news media, some of which had repeatedly and ardently reasserted the Rosenbergs’ innocence over the decades, did their best to ignore these revelations. The New York Times didn’t cover the story. The Nation, which over the decades had vilified and demonized witnesses who were now shown to have been telling the truth all along, deep-sixed the disclosures – and of course didn’t apologize to any of the people it had smeared.

But not everybody ignored the newly released documents. We’ll get around to that next time.

The Nation: lies, lies, lies

We concluded our previous post on The Nation, the leftist weekly now celebrating its 150th anniversary, with a recent summing-up  by Daniel Greenfield. The Nation, he wrote, has “learned nothing from the past. Instead it repeats history as farce, stumbling from one tyranny to another in the hopes of finding progress somewhere among the corpses.” Having “aided the Soviet plan for world domination,” Greenfield noted, The Nation is now “doing the very same thing for the Islamists.”

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Yep. And just as it manages to align itself, in all its preening, putatively progressive self-satisfaction, with the least progressive forces on earth, it consistently savages the one democracy in the Middle East – and then, when necessary, lies through its teeth about it. In a recent interview with the Jewish Daily Forward on the occasion of The Nation‘s big anniversary, Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel insisted that her magazine had a “great” pro-Israel record, and cited what she described as a 1940s Nation article by Ron Radosh “lobbying Truman, the UN, for the creation of the state of Israel.” But Radosh himself, after reading the interview, called vanden Heuvel’s attempt to claim his article as a part of The Nation‘s heritage an outrageous misrepresentation. “My wife and I,” he explained in a Facebook post, “wrote an article for World Affairs Journal about Freda Kirchwey and Israel, and NOT for The Nation. In fact, vanden Heuvel wrote a letter to the editor accusing us of being Likudniks. Now she tries to make it appear our pro-Israel article appeared in her magazine.”

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Harry Dexter White

But, of course, without lying – outright lying – a magazine like The Nation, which is still peddling ideas that have been totally shot down by history, wouldn’t be able to survive. Just as the USSR pursued a systematic policy of radically revising its own past – including the total removal from the public record of any trace of certain individuals who’d played major roles in government – so The Nation just keeps on amending its own annals. So deep-rooted at Ms. vanden Heuvel’s magazine is this longstanding impulse to dodge and distort, to prettify and prevaricate, that, as Jonathan Tobin has noted, it ran a review in 2013 that – with breathtaking audacity – sought to whitewash the late U.S. Treasury official Harry Dexter White by quite simply ignoring Soviet records proving that he’d been a KGB spy. Throughout the Cold War, observed Tobin, the folks at The Nation had pretended that “Soviet infiltration of Washington in the 1930s and 1940s was a figment of the imagination of demagogic right-wing anti-Communists”; but after the Cold War, when the facts were put before them, they continued to cling to their falsehoods.

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Michael Moore

As noted, The Nation‘s anniversary issue also contains some new material. There are testimonials to the magazine’s extraordinary value by Gloria Steinem and Alec Baldwin, among others. Michael Moore offers a long piece – which is apparently intended to be funny – about why he should be elected president. In another article, Kai Bird argues for total U.S. “disengagement” from the Middle East – in other words, leave Israel at the mercy of its neighbors. Bird presents this as a respectable retreat from imperialism –because, in the eyes of The Nation, absolutely everything is ultimately about U.S. imperialism. Also included is yet another attack on “Islamophobia” – which, of course, The Nation has been savaging for years. The anniversary issue’s overall message is summed up in a cartoon by the reliably execrable Tom Tomorrow; entitled “All the Right Enemies,” it expertly toes the party line, claiming that The Nation has always been on the right side of history.

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Art Spiegelman

(It should be mentioned that, in the entire issue, there’s one admirable exception to the rule of irresponsible inanity: cartoonist Art Spiegelman, author of Maus, pays tribute to his late colleagues at Charlie Hebdo, writing “I have NO interest in baiting psychopaths, but I must show respect to the foolhardy and brave Charlie Hebdo artists.”)

Fittingly, the issue concludes with a few brief contributions from young people who are presented as embodying the future of the magazine and its ideology. Here’s a sample, from a 22-year-old Harvard student: “I am 22 years old, and I have been a climate activist for ten years. My call is for a radical future now.” Plus ça change…

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Mikhail Gorbachev

Quite appropriately, one of the big names who have provided a blurb for The Nation‘s anniversary issue is Mikhail Gorbachev. “It is very important a magazine that stands for left-wing, progressive ideas has an audience in America,” writes Gorby. That The Nation, on the occasion of its 150th anniversary, can proudly flaunt the approval of the last unelected Communist ruler of the Soviet Union says pretty much all you need to know about what this rag is all about.

Rogues’ gallery

Last time around we offered an overview of that species known as the bolifunctionario – the small-time, big-ticket racketeers with whom Hugo Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro, have surrounded themselves, and who have become billionaires at the expense of Venezuelan voters. Now, let’s look at a few of these hooligans individually.

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Alejandro Andrade

Alejandro Andrade is an old pal of Chávez for whom an injury in a game of “chapitas” (a variation on baseball) turned into riches. In the game, Chávez threw a soda or beer cap which Andrade was supposed to hit with a broomstick; instead, the cap struck Andrade in the eye, half-blinding him for life. Chávez paid Andrade back by putting him in charge, in turn, of various public funds and, eventually, the National Treasury; while in these jobs, according to investigations by the FBI, DEA, SEC, and State Department, Andrade stole billions of dollars, which he spent on (among other things) a Florida mansion, a South Carolina farm, a Lear jet, some 150 thoroughbred horses, and a majority stake in a major TV channel.

To read through the list of Andrade’s ploys is to admire his ingenuity and versatility. For example, while head of the country’s Social Development Bank (a.k.a. Bandes), he made at least $66 million in kickbacks by selling Venezuelan bonds to a New York broker and buying them back at inflated prices. Andrade also put together a system that managed to provide funds for the ruling PSUV party while also enriching him and his confederates in the scheme. He’s so good at sponging up cash, indeed, that Chávez, just before his death, paid him the ultimate compliment – he wrote a letter placing his daughters’ future economic security in Andrade’s hands.

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Alejandro Betancourt, Pedro Trebbau López

Pedro Trebbau López and Alejandro Betancourt are the quintessential bolichicos – co-founders of Derwick Associates, a company that materialized out of thin air in 2007 and almost immediately began winning government contracts to build power plants, an activity in which neither Trebbau nor Betancourt had any expertise whatsoever. The firm is accused of having overbilled the government by some $3 billion and of paying at least $50 million in bribes, and together or separately its two principals own a Falcon plane, a Bell helicopter, a home in Miami, an office on Park Avenue, and a farm in Spain.

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Diosdado Cabello

Chávez crony Diosdado Cabello is President of the National Assembly, which he runs like a thug – silencing, intimidating, and even, on one occasion, ordering the beating of opposition legislators right there in the chamber. Known unaffectionately as “The Godfather,” he owns a slew of banks and insurance firms and also supposedly has his hand in some shady companies that run the Caracas ports. At last count, he was the defendant in at least 17 corruption cases, one of which accuses him of having received at least $50 million in bribes from Derwick Associates.

Also worth a mention is Cabello’s brother José David Cabello, who has served as head of the international airport in Caracas, Minister of Infrastructure, and President of the National Customs and Tax Administration (Seniat), without having a background in any of these fields.

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Rafael Ramírez

Rafael Ramírez held several high-level energy posts before serving briefly last year as Foreign Minister; he’s now UN ambassador. While head of the state oil firm, PDVSA, he ordered employees “to vote for Chávez or else.” With three cronies, he rearranged the processing of Venezuela’s oil income to make it utterly lacking in transparency, resulting in a system that one industry source called “rotten to the core” and that ultimately achieved the impossible: bankrupting the state oil firm of one of the world’s leading oil powers.

Then there’s Ramírez’s cousin Diego Salazar, who – thanks to a multimillion-dollar insurance policy Ramírez took out on PDVSA – went in a trice from being a lowly insurance salesman to being one of the richest men in the country, owning a private plane, a private orchestra of some 100 musicians, “almost all the apartments” in a Caracas luxury complex, and much else. He’s been investigated by the U.S. Senate for corruption – but it would take more than that to cramp his style.

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Tarek El Aissami

We’ve already mentioned Tarek El Aissami, governor of the state of Aragua and head of the ruling PSUV party. The American Enterprise Institute has called him “thuggish,” but this seems like a polite understatement. It may sound like a joke, but Aissami’s dad actually ran the Venezuelan branch of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, and Aissami himself – who was a college friend of Chávez’s brother – came to be known as Chávez’s personal link to Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.

Aissami has funneled cash to these groups, and when he was head of the agency that produces national ID cards, he provided Venezuelan cover identities to some of their members. As if that weren’t impressive enough, he also recruited young PSUV members to train in Lebanon for guerrilla war against the U.S.

But aiding and abetting terrorism is just a sideline for Aissami, whose main activity, it seems, has been sponging up taxpayer money and laundering it through his “multilayered and vast network of shell companies,” the chart of which looks more complex than the organization of the U.S. government itself.

(Bonus factoid: Aissami’s brother Firaz is involved with drug trafficking and has over $21 million in a Swiss bank.)

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Wilmer Ruperti

Shipping magnate Wilmer Ruperti, who thanks to “illegal deals with corrupt thugs” became “the go-to guy for nearly all PDVSA-shipping needs,” provides a fine example of the cartoonish extent to which Venezuelan self-enrichment schemes can go: in order to fool a Russian firm into thinking it was chartering oil tankers to PDVSA, Ruperti set up “an elaborate network of shell companies,” giving one of them a name very close to that of PDVSA, and leased tankers from the Russian firm, then rented them to PDVSA at a hefty profit. Alas for him, U.S. and U.K. authorities got wind of his dodge and took him to court; in the U.K. case, he had to pay $59 million in damages. But he’s not suffering: he owns a bulletproof BMW, a jet, a veritable palace in Caracas, and a Miami Beach mansion that, on paper, is owned by (of all people) Gloria Estefan’s husband.

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Victor Vargas

Victor Vargas, who runs several banks and companies around the world, has long been known as the “Chávez Banker.” Translation: he’s said to have “made a backroom deal with Chávez’s government to handle some of the revolution’s murkier financial transactions.” As we’ve noted, Vargas may or may not own Cadena Capriles, Venezuela’s largest media conglomerate, which was purchased through a proxy on the island of Curaçao; if he does own it, moreover, he’s probably a front for the government, which has an interest in controlling as much of the nation’s media as possible. Vargas owns a major polo team, a stable of 60 ponies, a private fleet of jets, two yachts, a helicopter, homes in Europe, a huge estate in Venezuela, and mansions in Santo Domingo and Palm Beach.

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Luisa Ortega Díaz

Luisa Ortega Díaz is Venezuela’s General Prosecutor, a position she’s used to undermine media rights and to imprison journalists and politicians (notably opposition leader Leopoldo López). In 2009 she proposed a Media Crimes Law to curb “the irrational use of power by the media” and “regulate freedom of expression.” While ignoring the embezzlement by officials of truckloads of cars, motorcycles, computers, cameras, and other government-owned items, she’s used forged evidence to prosecute opposition legislators; and while threatening to “severely punish” so-called “hoarders” of basic foodstuffs – a widespread and thoroughly understandable phenomenon in Venezuela, where things are so screwed-up that you can’t be sure you’ll be able to buy bread, butter, or milk any time in the next few weeks – she’s been photographed shopping at high-end boutiques on the Rue Saint-Honoré in Paris.

All this, note well, is just a small sampling of the sleazy operators who make up the Maduro regime.

[NOTE: Corrected on December 22, 2015, to reflect the fact that Rafael Ramírez, at the time this post went up, was UN ambassador, not Minister of Finance.]