Witch hunts. Red-baiting. McCarthyism. Inquisition.
Since the passing of the Patriot Act, the emergence of an enigmatic no-fly list and the galvanizing push to wage war on Iraq, critics have used the above terms to characterize the pro-war camp and its supporting press, both of which were seen as recklessly and manipulatively branding all dissenters as unpatriotic, and sometimes treasonous and traitorous as well.
One headline, following the first large anti-war protest in the capital, read:
“100,000 march to give comfort and aid to Saddam.”
Untold however, was the ironic story of a similar struggle within the anti-war camp, where some leaders, activists and writers who voiced opposition to leadership say they were stigmatized and labeled “red-baiters” and “McCarthyists” in an alleged attempt to intimidate and silence dissent within protest ranks.
The behind-the-scenes dynamics provide a glimpse into the extremes the left, as well as the right, can go in the midst of the public debate over the emotionally-charged issue of war.
Away from the media spotlight, Nathan Newman, a prominent attorney and activist, accused the anti-war ANSWER coalition of having conducted an “ideological inquisition” and “witch hunt” against leftist critics.
Newman, former vice president of the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, is a union lawyer, political activist and frequent contributor to Technology Review, Progressive Populist, and American Prospect.
A political activist and former union organizer, he also was the project director at NetAction, a consumer technology advocacy group and wrote “Net Loss,” a book addressing Internet policy and related issues of economic inequality.
Newman’s offense? He repeatedly has described the ANSWER [Act Now to Stop War and End Racism] coalition, a prominent organizer of the anti-war rallies, as a front group for the neo-Stalinist Worker’s World Party, or WWP, a group he describes as supporters of “mass murderers,” “morally reprehensible,” and “not fit to associate with.”
“The WWP to this day believes that the North Korea dictatorship is the model of how society should be run,” complained Newman, “They think killing students in the streets of Beijing during Tiannenmen was a good thing. And they deny that women were raped and Bosnians killed in mass numbers at Srebrenica, making them little different from Holocaust deniers.”
Newman’s understanding of the political leanings of these groups, he said, was founded upon their publications, public stances, business connections and from his experience of the Guild doing legal work for them.
To those who questioned his characterizing of ANSWER as a front group for the WWP, Newman responded, “I’ve worked with the WWP in various coalitions. You may not know how front groups work, but when the website was created by, the office is run by, and the main spokespeople are all from a single group like the Workers World Party, it is fair to characterize the group as being derived from that group.”
He added, “And as a member of the leadership of the National Lawyers Guild, which has endorsed ANSWER – against my vote – and who has key people doing their legal work, I know pretty well the role of the WWP in organizing this stuff. ”
“If the main group leading ANSWER supports mass murderers, ” Newman concluded, “those working with them have some responsibility for disassociating themselves from those views.”
‘Supporters of authoritarian butchers’
Newman called for consistency, saying the left rightly had condemned Trent Lott for his association with “neo-confederate racists,” but added, “The same principle applies to the left not casually ignoring its own association with supporters of authoritarian butchers.”
Among the criticisms that got Newman in hot water were the following comments he posted on the Internet:
“This is exactly the problem with the WWP-style ‘anti-war left’ murder and war is okay if the victims have the ‘wrong’ ideological composition. It’s just Kissinger principles in reverse.
“The problem is not just Tiananmen but the WWP’s uncritical support for every variety of Stalinist butchering regime. They still think Kim Il Sung and North Korea are admirable models of socialism.
“The whole nation-state ‘Global Class War’ rhetoric of the enemy of my enemy (read USA) is my friend is a crock of sh– that allies it with repressive regimes globally and creating a machinery of apologia that discredits the left more generally.”
Newman’s public expression of disdain for the WWP and ANSWER soon set him at loggerheads with the Guild, which maintains a cozy relationship with the groups.
Newman reported the Guild’s National Executive Committee rebuked him and the New York City Guild chapter he led for their strident criticism of these key groups that wrested organizational control of and led the recent anti-war rallies.
At the time of his rebuke, Newman told fellow activists, “At the moment, I am being denounced by name within the National Exec Committee of my own organization, the National Lawyers Guild, for being critical of the WWP’s connection to ANSWER on my personal blog, and a resolution is being voted on to denounce all such criticisms as red-baiting … denying that ANSWER can in any way be described as a front group of WWP, thus making any accusation of such ‘unfounded’ and a ‘vicious attack.’
“Our executive director wanted to add part of the resolution that no local chapter could criticize the WWP’s role or otherwise deviate from the national line (something the NYC chapter already has done in its own resolutions), so this ‘anti-red baiting’ position is turning into its own form of authoritarianism within various left organizations and publications.”
Newman recounted a month of “internal witch hunts” within the Guild against him, culminating in a hour spent at a local NYC Guild chapter where members discussed the inappropriateness of his views on his weblog, e-mail and “assorted other ideological failings” due to his criticism of the Workers World Party.
In frustration, Newman said, “My tolerance for even a smidgen of defense for this ‘anti-red baiting’ crap is pretty much at an end. ”
Newman believed the war on Iraq should have been stopped, but insisted “associating with thugs who actively support dictators around the world is not the way to do it. … I think of that kind of political organizing as wrong-doing of a pretty high order.”
Newman later announced a resolution was passed by the Guild in order to stifle such dissent.
“The executive committee of my organization, the National Lawyers Guild, has declared in a resolution passed this week that such statements are ‘unprincipled,’ a ‘witchhunt,’ and merely ‘red-baiting’ and a form of ‘McCarthyism,” he wrote.
Newman found the criticism ironic, given his own left-leaning political inclinations.
“I’ve never experienced this kind of ideological inquisition in any liberal group I’ve been a member of, despite places where I was known to have more leftwing ‘commie’ views,” he noted. “My experience in life is of far more ideological intolerance from the ‘leftwing’ sectarians than from regular progressive folks.”
Indeed, Newman’s own general network of friends are in the core of left-wing political organizing. In October 2002, Newman helped to manage legal observing at the “Not in My Name NYC” rally. He has attended many protest events, been arrested at some and was in D.C. for the anti-IMF actions two years ago.
“I consider myself a ‘leftist,’ he said, “even Marxist in some vague ways, and have been member of softer left groups like Democratic Socialists of America and the Committees of Correspondence. So my opinion is not ‘anti-left’ or ‘anti-Party’ per se, but anti a particular kind of sectarianism.”
Instructing and silencing
How did the NLG come to pass the resolution? Newman explained the resolution was proposed by a member of the D.C.-based law firm, the Partnership for Civil Justice, which does legal work for Workers World and the International Action Center, or IAC, and was picked by the WWP as a member of ANSWER’s steering committee.
Partnership for Civil Justice, or PCJ, lawyers Mara Verheyden-Hilliard and Carl Messineo are frequent speakers at ANSWER-led events, and Verheyden-Hilliard was the emcee of the October rally in Washington.
The third staffer of the PCJ is Zachary Wolfe, who also is a national vice-president for the National Guild of Lawyers. Sarah Sloan, a member of the Workers World Party, and a spokeswoman and youth coordinator for the International Action Center as well as ANSWER, now also works at the Partnership for Civil Justice. The PCJ staff sit on the steering committee of ANSWER. In addition, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard is a member of the Steering Committee of the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Committee.
The Mass Defense Committee of the National Lawyers Guild is described as a nationwide network of lawyers, legal workers and law students who provide support to First Amendment protected political speech and conduct.
Phone calls made to the PCJ were not returned.
“And when he made the proposal,” Newman recounted,” after a few obligatory noises about Ashcroft, he made it clear that the purpose of the proposal was to silence members of the NLG itself, particularly some people in the New York City chapter who had been critical of ANSWER’s role in New York City, and myself in particular for critical comments on Workers World and ANSWER on my personal website,” said Newman.
Newman noted the discussion on implementing the resolution was not about mounting a public campaign against “some latter-day House Un-American Activities Committee,” but about how to “instruct and silence” local National Lawyers Guild chapters and leaders to “conform to the new ideological line.”
The criticism clashes with characteristic statements made by the Guild, as in its recent fight to quash an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force subpoena issued in February, which asked Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, to produce all records relating to a Nov. 15, 2003, anti-war conference that was sponsored by the campus chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. In addition to labeling the action illegal, Guild President Michael Avery specifically condemned the action as an attempt to intimidate protesters.
“The subpoena has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with intimidating lawful protesters and suppressing First Amendment freedom of expression and association,” said Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the Guild.
“In the 1950s our members suffered harm from disclosure of their associational relationship with the Guild,” she said. “The Guild is in the business of fighting illegal government activity, and we will fight to protect our membership information. We will also work to support and defend the rights of the other activists targeted by these subpoenas.”
The Guild added that its members “well understand the nationwide trend toward increasingly repressive measures deployed against political protesters.”
WND asked Boghosian about Newman’s experience and the resolution that was passed. After repeatedly declining to comment, Boghosian said the resolution was passed by a “universal consensus” in order to solidify support for the anti-war movement.
She declined to comment on Newman and also would not comment on who initiated the resolution. Boghosian added the guild only criticizes the U.S. government and not individual groups. When asked if the NLG had ever engaged in criticism of right-wing groups, Boghosian hesitated, then said, “No.”
McCarthyism on the authoritarian left
Newman, as well as others who had been critical of ANSWER and the WWP, saw the charges of “red-baiting” coming from the PCJ, other activists and even the media, as manipulative and designed to intimidate and coerce loyalty.
“Throwing the phrase ‘red-baiting’ around works within the left like charges of ‘subversion’ does within the right,” responded Newman. “It encourages people to fall into line for fear of being labeled disloyal and leads to suppression of dissent internally. And unfortunately, the national leaders of the Guild scurried to condemn ‘red-baiting,’ while really endorsing the suppression of dissent – suppression which is what real historical red-baiting was all about.”
“Crying ‘red-baiting’ is just a form of McCarthyism within the left, an attempt to shut people up when they raise criticism of policies,” observed Newman. “You may find the Soviet suppression of Hungarians in 1968, the shooting of Czechs in the streets of 1968 and the murder of students in Beijing in 1989 to be dandy service to the revolution, but … those in the WWP who applaud the murder of other leftists should not be considered comrades. ”
Newman described the intervention of the Workers World Party into the National Lawyers Guild as part of a systematic campaign designed to silence those who criticize their politics and their role in the anti-war movement. He also said the tactics were used to avoid discussing the problems many leftists have with “what’s been going on in the peace movement.”
“Folks like myself are not critiquing the fact that large numbers of left groups are organizing to get people to these rallies or participating in them,” Newman explained. “They are criticizing a particular group, the Workers World Party, because its politics and allied regimes are as repugnant as the warmongering of the Bush administration, and the WWP’s methods are sectarian and exclusionary.”
After the Guild incidents, Newman drew attention to fellow activist Chuck “ChuckO” Munson, on the LBO-talk [Left Business Observer] e-mail list. Newman alleges Munson, after criticizing ANSWER’s treatment of other activists, “was described as an agent of the cops by the leadership of the National Lawyer’s Guild – repeating the views of our WWP-allied D.C. folks [The Partnership for Civil Justice].”
Said Newman, “Anyone who criticizes the WWP’s role gets described one way or the other as agents of the right wing, a pretty disgusting approach to treating differing opinions by people who all oppose the war with Iraq.”
Munson responded: “Activists with the Workers World Party and ANSWER have finally gotten around to responding to their critics … with at least one public statement. They avoid answering the criticisms, but instead charge their critics with red-baiting.”
“This is pretty hypocritical,” he noted, “because as writer and blogger Nathan Newman finally has revealed, core activist leaders with ANSWER are themselves engaged in red-baiting and cop-baiting of other activists.”
He continued, “I can report that the people referred to as ‘our WWP-allied D.C. folks’ are the lawyers with the Partnership for Civil Justice, a small law firm specializing in civil law.”
“They’ve done a lot of good work for activists locally,” Munson noted, “The PCJ has had a friendly relationship with the International Action Center – a front group led by Ramsey Clark and run by the WWP- dating back to the April 2000 World Bank/IMF protests. This relationship in and of itself is nothing remarkable, but when the ANSWER coalition was formed by the International Action Center and WWP in the days after 9-11, PCJ was a prominent member of ANSWER’s steering committee. PCJ’s relationship on this steering committee represents an endorsement of ANSWER partisan politics and actions towards other activists.”
“The petty authoritarians running ANSWER need to look in the mirror before accusing other activists of unethical behavior,” he concluded.
The ‘bogey man of McCarthyism’
A WND expose of the ties of these same groups was discussed on Fox News Watch in November 2002. While the article was praised by Newsday’s Jim Pinkerton as a “terrific piece of investigative reporting,” author Neil Gabler derided it as “McCarthyist” and incorrectly claimed the article labeled all protesters as “communists.” No errors were noted.
Fox News later published a report similar to WorldNetDaily’s, as did other news agencies on both the right and the left.
What media and media watchers like Gabler seemed unable to grasp was that the controversy arose not over those espousing a theory of Marxism, but those actively supporting and defending current and former communist and dictatorial regimes engaged in torture, suppression of dissent, summary trials and executions, slave labor camps, the loss of rights of association and travel, the denial of free speech, and the shooting on sight of public protesters – all practices that are antithetical to the core anti-war/peace message.
Author Kevin Coogan, who has written the definitive history of the WWP, is familiar with charges of McCarthyism as well, and suggests the media were silent on the issue for fear of “being labeled ‘red-baiters.’ ”
Coogan’s articles have appeared in The Nation, Mother Jones and the Village Voice. In addition, he has written “Dreamer of the Day,” a hallmark book on Francis Parker Yockey and the post-war fascist international movement.
“I too got slammed by ideologues with the boogie man of McCarthyism as well,” Coogan told WND, ” However to me it just meant that I had hit a nerve as none of the attacks raised any factual errors in my piece.”
“The important point to keep in mind is that the knee-jerk types and the WWP fans make noise but they are a handful of people,” said Coogan, “and that the general population, if presented with the facts, would shun the WWP like the plague. The fanatics are dopes, and I don’t mind making them mad.”
Coogan said after 9-11, he felt it was time to “take the gloves off” when it came to the most “egregious of these characters” – the Workers World Party. He said the Revolutionary Communist Party USA is “right up there as well,” but to date, the WWP has been more effective.
About those who labeled him a red-baiter, Coogan said: “My feeling was that the attackers were pretty much on automatic pilot and that they represented either knee-jerk types who would react to any criticism of any leftist group – no matter how crazy its politics – with vitriol without knowing or caring to know about the group, and, fans of the WWP who simply pounded the table.”
Coogan said he expected the reaction, and for that reason based much of his story on written material from the inter-related WWP, IAC and ANSWER.
He added, “The far left can be as fanatical as the far right, but for years the far left has gotten a pass because of the ‘red baiting’ fear by the liberal media.”
“The media interview members of these groups as if they are legitimate pacifists,” complains Michael Tremoglie, veteran police detective, writer and novelist, “I often wonder if mainstream journalists have the IQ of house dust or if they just think everybody else does.”
Impervious to mainstream journalists, the ties and the controversy have been transparent not only to activists, but also to underground newspapers such as New York City’s The Shadow, and Berkeley’s Hit List, both of which pioneered the investigation of the groups and key figures. Manny Goldstein and Kevin Coogan were the first to break ground on the subject within the pages of those publications.
Self-described “council communist” Lefty Hooligan also criticized the WWP-IAC-ANSWER connection in an article that appeared in the punk rock publication Maximum RocknRoll.” He referred to “WWP honcho” Gloria LaRiva as engaging in “handcuffs-and-nightstick Leftism,” which he said was “evident in her unapologetic support for Saddam Hussein’s brutality.” La Riva also was slammed for telling protest audiences “Cuba is far more democratic than the U.S.”
A dissenting activist website, mockingly named International R.E.S.P.O.N.S.E. sprang up to rebuke the “Authoritarian Opportunists Who Cozy Up To Genocidal Dictators – for Peace.”
Coogan also pointed out WWP-International Action Center connection also has been repeatedly exposed by the WWP’s rivals in the fringe Trotskyist movement, most notably in the Spartacist League paper Workers Vanguard, which in its Sept. 28, 2001, issue referred to the “Stalinoid Workers World Party” as well as the “WWP’s International Action Center” without further elaboration, “presumably since the WWP’s role in the IAC is already so well known to fringe leftists.”
Coogan also noted the WWP’s presence inside the IAC is equally transparent to European leftists like Max Bohnel, a writer for the German Communist paper Neues Deutschland.
In describing the IAC in a June 23, 1999, article, Bohnel wrote: “Behind the IAC stands the Workers World Party, which has withstood the gradual collapse of the remaining U.S. left remarkably.” [“Hinter dem IAC steht die ‘Workers World Party’ die den langsamen Zusammenbruch der US-Restlinken bemerkenswert gut ?berstanden hat.”]
“Neues Deutschland then points out that both Ramsey Clark and the WWP have even come under criticism from other leftists because of their lack of criticism [“wegen mangelnder Kritik”] for the governments of Iraq and Yugoslavia,” said Coogan.
Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney General in the Lyndon Johnson administration, is the founder and director of the International Action Center.
Coogan pointed out, “Up until recently it has primarily been voices from the fringe left that have pointed out the ties between the IAC and WWP, ties that are utterly transparent to anyone with even the slightest knowledge of the left, but which appear to be utterly opaque to big ‘capitalist’ media outlets like Reuters, the Washington Post and CNN.”
Coogan recalls the progression of events and the spread of criticism: “Luckily, a bit of glasnost on the left regarding the WWP finally broke open after Christopher Hitchens criticized the WWP-ANSWER in the Washington Post … and Nation magazine columnist David Corn did so as well in the LA Weekly. So too did Marc Cooper, another Nation writer.”
Northwestern University journalism professor Abe Peck offers another perspective on the lack of coverage of the “far, far left.”
Peck is a former contributing editor for Rolling Stone; author of “Uncovering the ’60s: The Life and Times of the Underground Press,” a contributing writer for “Voices from the Underground, Rolling Stone’s History of the ’60s,” and a former reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Daily News.
“It’s ignored by mainstream media because most coverage is ‘narrow-casted’ to the middle,” he said. He also believes the far right is covered because and when it is engaged in crime.
“It’s a crime story, it’s not based on ideology. The far right becomes relevant when it’s shooting abortion doctors or blowing up courthouses,” he said, “There aren’t a lot of leftists blowing things up.”
He noted wryly that, “To squawk-show hosts, even Hillary Clinton is far left. Anyone to the left is ‘crazy.'”
He also cautioned against those who make blanket generalizations about how the left handles and communicates internal divisions.
Recalling his own involvement in the anti-war movement in the 1960s Peck observed, “Did we cut people on our side more slack, due to peer pressure, and the fact we were under ‘hippie surveillance’? Did I compromise intellectually, in the heat of the moment? Yes, I did. Did everyone? No. That’s a silly argument.”
‘I will not be silenced’
After Nathan Newman boldly voiced his opposition to the WWP-IAC-ANSWER leadership, anti-war activist Chuck Munson put his support in writing: “I’m really glad that Nathan has spoken up about the bull–– that ANSWER and their supporters are up to.”
Decrying ANSWER and “their WWP puppet-masters,” Munson described the charge of ‘red-baiting’ as a move employed by authoritarians to stifle debate and discussion among activists and in the greater left.”
Munson noted, “They seek a movement that is organized from the top down and one that doesn’t tolerate anybody questioning how things are done. This is an evasion of accountability and transparency by the core ANSWER group and it is our job as progressive activists to call them on their bull––.”
He added, “I will not be silenced.”
Author Coogan sums up the core controversy: “My only wish would be to make the point that the WWP (like the [Revolutionary Communist Party]) isn’t horrible simply because it is leftist or Marxist per se; it is horrible that both groups raison d’?tre has been on cheerleading the worst Stalinist and human rights abusing governments in the world from Pol Pot to Saddam as long as they are feuding with America. And both do so under the pretext of being peaceful humanitarians concerned with human rights, poverty and the suffering of innocent people.
“This is the real reason why the influence of both groups today is such a scandal.”