“It’s not that our liberal friends are ignorant. It’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.”
– Ronald Reagan
In the early morning hours of Dec. 9, 1981, 25-year-old police officer Danny Faulkner pulled his patrol car behind a light blue Volkswagen Beetle in the heart of Philadelphia’s red-light district. Alarmed by the circumstances, he radioed for a wagon to help with an arrest. He never had the chance to explain what alarmed him.
A police car arrived two minutes later. To his unending horror, the arriving patrolman found Faulkner face up on the sidewalk, a bullet in his back and another right between his eyes – “complete instantaneous disability and death.”
Sitting dazed nearby, with Faulkner’s bullet in his chest, was a cabdriver named Mumia Abu-Jamal. Next to Mumia was his gun, all five bullets spent, two of them in Faulkner. Four eyewitnesses at the scene, two of them black, immediately identified Mumia as the shooter.
Although his attorneys would later serve up the classically lame TODDI defense – “the other dude did it” – Mumia never offered an alternative story, nor did his brother, William Cook, the driver of the Volkswagen and the man Faulkner tried to arrest before Mumia intervened. Cook’s only words of explanation were the honest ones he muttered at the scene, “I ain’t got nothing to do with it.”
Mumia was, as our southern friends say, guilty as a goose. By comparison, the cases against Scott Peterson or O.J. Simpson were strained and circumstantial. The prosecutor claimed often and publicly that “he never had a stronger murder case” in his long and successful career, and he was not exaggerating. To no one’s surprise, a mixed-race jury convicted Mumia of murder and sentenced him to death.
One would think at this point that the man’s career options were not terribly attractive, ranging as they did between gas and electric. But to think thusly is to underestimate the creative mischief of the American cultural community. Truth be told, Mumia’s career was just about ready to shift into high gear.
Mumia, you see, was not your average prisoner on death row. The one-time journalist was well spoken, well versed in Marxist claptrap, and, above all, cute. That last item was critical. He emerged as the human equivalent of a baby seal, big-eyed and vulnerable.
Daniel Williams, a leftist activist and Mumia’s defense lawyer during the appeals process, provides a valuable inside account of the evolution of Mumia into a left-wing “rock star,” one whose first name, like Elvis or Madonna, has enough marquee value to stand alone.
In his book, “Executing Justice,” Williams traces the origins of Mumia mania to the “Trotskyist” Partisan Defense Committee, which first started making noise on Mumia’s behalf. The slightly more mainstream Quixote Center – a cohort of “liberation theology Catholics” – soon added to the PDC din.
National Public Radio served up “the defining moment” of the increasing clamor by signing Mumia to do a series of commentaries on prison life for “All Things Considered.” Addison-Wesley published a book of Mumia’s ramblings called “Live from Death Row.” The students at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., heard from the man himself via tape. They had made him – parents, are you listening? – their commencement speaker.
The noise soon reached the sensitive ears of the international left, culminating in a visit to Mumia’s remote Pennsylvania prison cell by one Danielle Mitterand, the former first lady of the dependably gullible France. Indeed, in a defining moment of international tomfoolery, the city of Paris officially named Mumia “Citizen of Honor,” the first such honoree since artist Pablo Picasso 30 years prior.
Despite Mumia’s seeming innocence, NPR eventually “capitulated to intense right-wing pressures” and dropped Mumia from its lineup. The capitulation, however, only burnished Mumia’s star. Mumia wrote still another book, this time about the NPR experience and adroitly titled, “All Things Censored.” The title, as Williams would later ruefully admit, “bespeaks a distaste for suppressing speech.” By this time, Williams himself had learned how fully situational was the hard-left’s affection for the First Amendment, but more on that later.
The left’s attraction to the obviously false is nothing new. For well nigh a century, in fact, America’s intellectual elite has been crafting and enabling fraud on a wide range of critical subjects, among them history, anthropology, political science, science, sexology, health and criminal justice.
And “fraud” here does not mean bias, revisionism, or an unorthodox interpretation – although there is plenty of all that. Nor does it refer to the kinds of omissions and misstatements that routinely occur in the production of daily or weekly news. Fraud here means outright fabrication: inventing, plagiarizing, suppressing obvious facts, and spinning “nonfiction” out of whole cloth. Specific cases range on a continuum from unwitting self-deception to conscious manipulation of data, from the merely false to the purely fraudulent.
The individuals who man the New York-Hollywood axis and the university outposts in between might justifiably be called America’s cultural establishment. One obvious reason that cases like Mumia’s are so common is that those perpetrating a given fraud almost inevitably are advancing causes that this establishment wants to see advanced. Although there are obvious exceptions, the people who guard the cultural gates tend to be liberal on sexual and social issues, socialist on economic ones, internationalist in their worldview, and Democratic in their voting
Not unnaturally, people of influence in the cultural establishment are inclined to promote, praise and protect those creative individuals who think as they do. As a case in point, they have published no fewer than five sympathetic books about Mumia, and another five by Mumia himself. The foreign press has contributed more still.
Control of the cultural establishment is just one reason why fraud plagues the political left. The less obvious but more fundamental reason is that progressive authors and their cultural support groups live in a world where God, if not fully dead, is irrelevant.
“If there is no God,” concluded Jean-Paul Sartre in his famous paraphrase of Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karamazov, “everything is permitted.” Given this grounding, the less scrupulous among progressive activists judge sentiments not by their veracity, but by their utility. As Nikolai Lenin once coldly noted, “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.” With good reason, the more honest in the progressive community fear the less scrupulous.
Author Williams learned this lesson the hard way. If “Executing Justice” is essentially a dishonest book – Williams, for instance, cleanses from the record all evidence of the emotional collapse that turned the “intelligent, passionate, overtly life affirming” journalist Mumia into an angry cabdriver – it is occasionally insightful. He does at least lay out the case against Mumia, including the inconvenient fact that the bullets found in Faulkner’s back and head did indeed come from Mumia’s literally smoking gun.
Despite Williams’ eager endorsement of Mumia’s innocence, Mumia shocked Williams by suing to block the publication of his book. Mumia’s supporters added to Williams’ misery by harassing him and charging that he had “blood on his hands” for citing the evidence against Mumia. “The whiplash of the [case's] sharp left turn,” as Williams described the reaction, left him smarting and dispirited.
The left has a history of Mumias, nearly a century’s worth, often with lethal consequences. The specific Mumia fable follows a shockingly consistent pattern, one sensationally fashioned in a murder 60 years prior. What Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti had in common with Mumia – beyond their good looks, radical posturings, and claims of ethnic victimization – were that they too were as guilty as sin. To their friends in the progressive literary community, however, the truth simply did not – and, alas, still does not – matter.
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