David Horowitz and the New Brownshirts
Revolution #042, April 9, 2006, posted at revcom.us
“The Professors… The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America” by David Horowitz is the ideological foundation for a sweeping assault on critical thinking on college campuses and beyond.
“The Professors…” is no abstract discussion of what should be allowed to be taught, studied, and debated on campuses. It serves and inflames a highly integrated, extensive enforcement apparatus already in motion to ban discussion, debate, and critical thinking—inside or outside of classrooms—on the most important questions of the day.
Horowitz’s agenda has been introduced as law in 16 states (according to his frontpagemag.com web site) and the US House of Representatives. This so-called “Academic Bill of Rights” or “Students Rights” legislation would impose Horowitz’s definition of “dangerous” teaching with the force of law.
On campuses across the country, reactionary students, mobilized by Horowitz’s “Students for Academic Freedom,” are taping classes, turning their teachers into the authorities, and calling for criminal prosecution of teachers for their ideas and teaching.
And powerful forces like Christian fascist Pat Robertson are promoting the book and whipping up their audiences into a dangerous frenzy of outrage, guided by this book.
A Brownshirt Network and a Law to Institutionalize Censorship
At Santa Rosa Jr. College in California, campus Republicans organizing for Horowitz’s so-called “Academic Bill of Rights” law posted red stars and copies of a California law against communist “indoctrination” on the doors of ten professors, and said in a press release “[W]e believe certain instructors at SRJC are in violation of California state law.” One targeted professor said he had “never taught Marx, never read Lenin” but that one student in his class was upset by material about the Iraq war. (Santa Rosa Jr. College Oak Leaf newspaper, 3/2/05).
At UCLA, a group founded by a Horowitz’s protege Andrew Jones offered a $100 bounty for taped evidence of professors’ radical politics. After public outrage, Jones withdrew the cash offer, but continued to collect secret classroom recordings for what he calls the “Dirty Thirty” academics. Jones advertised for students to turn in “a professor who just can’t stop talking about President Bush, about the war in Iraq, about the Republican Party, or any other ideological issue that has nothing to do with the class subject matter. It doesn’t matter whether this is a past class, or your class from this coming winter quarter. If you help expose the professor, we’ll pay you for your work.” Horowitz’s “Students for Academic Freedom” disavowed Jones’s campaign, but only because Jones’s pay-to-snitch campaign was “exactly how not to run an academic freedom campaign.” Note the description of this as a (wrongly run) academic freedom campaign. (“Witch-Hunt at UCLA Targets Professors,” Revolution #33 at revcom.us).
After one of Horowitz’s spies taped her class and accused her of “attacking Republicans,” a Navajo professor of political science in Colorado felt compelled to tape her class as self-protection measure. One can easily imagine the chilling impact that had on classroom discussion. Beyond that, the professor was subjected to death threats (“shoot the commie bitch”) after an ex-Marine student posted a slanderous article at Horowitz’s online magazine. Students felt compelled to walk the professor to her car after evening classes. (“A Liberal Professor Fights a Label,” by Jennifer Jacobson, The Chronicle of Higher Education 11/26/04)
And Horowitz-“inspired” spying and witch hunts in high schools led to the suspension of a teacher who reportedly told his students: “Sounds a lot like the things that Adolf Hitler used to say… ‘We’re the only ones who are right, everyone else is backward and our job is to conquer the world.’” The teacher was reported to have told his students that the U.S. is “probably the single most violent nation on Earth.” He told pupils that they were free to disagree with him. In an inspiring example of resistance, 150 students walked out of school to protest the suspension of their teacher. “He’s one of the best teachers we have. He’s honest—that’s what we need,” said one student.
In a fundraising letter to his email list, Horowitz called the teacher’s actions “child abuse” and invoked this as a prime example of why his “Academic Bill of Rights” needed to be made law. Appearing on the 700 Club TV show of Christian fascist Pat Robertson, Horowitz reacted to the return of this courageous teacher to the classroom: “I have an academic bill of rights, and we have legislation moving in a dozen states. I have hearings in Pennsylvania on academic freedom. I just came back from Kansas where they will get them there. The idea is just to shine a light on what is going on. What you are doing on The 700 Club is very important in this process. If we start fighting back, a lot can change fairly quickly because, while it will take a long time to affect the actual faculties, we can at least make them behave. There is no reason why a high school teacher should be allowed to rant in the classroom on political issues. It is unfortunate that the Colorado school system did not respond well. The teacher is back in the classroom, even though he demonstrated he had no sense of the responsibility of what a teacher is.”
And, on a separate broadcast of his 700 Club show, Robertson pitched “The Professors…” Echoing the book jacket, he declared, “They are racists, murders, sexual deviants, and supporters of al-Qaida! They also could be teaching your college kids!” Robertson raged on, “These guys are out and out communists. They are communists. They are—some of them—killers.” And Robertson warned his followers, “You don’t want your child to be brainwashed, not only brainwashed, but beat up! They beat these people up! Cover them into submission! (A video of this episode is available at the People for the American Way site; Horowitz quotes are from CBN.com).
Not About “Balance” or Freedom of Speech
While Horowitz claims his attack is constrained to teachers “us[ing] the authority of the classroom to force students to adopt their positions,” his book makes little if any presence at restricting its attack on activities in the classroom. To take just one example, the section in “The Professors…” on Noam Chomsky notes in a paragraph that Chomsky teaches modern languages and linguistics, but the four-page attack on Chomsky makes no reference to anything he has done in his classes, and is entirely devoted to attacking Chomsky’s activities and writing outside of class. The same is true of many, if not most, of the professors slandered and attacked in the book.
Nor does “The Professors…” make any real pretense of living up to Horowitz’s proclaimed principle that “We do not care whether a professor is a liberal or a conservative. We care that a professor is professional; that he or she does not indoctrinate their students but educates them.” (Letter posted at studentsforacademicfreedom.org—the campus organization headed by Horowitz).
There are no conservative, reactionary, or fascist teachers included in “The Professors…” The 101 academics represent a wide range of perspectives and areas of study. Those being attacked are contributing research, thinking, and ideas that in different ways, from different political views, that, among other things, challenge the “war on terror,” domestic repression, white supremacy, Christian fundamentalism, and the oppression of women and gays. In “The Professors…,” experts who study, teach, and write about the Middle East from different viewpoints are associated with terrorism. The “dangerous” professors also include scholars who criticize capitalism, greed, and globalization and pose the need to explore and investigate alternatives. In short, what is under attack is critical thinking, debate, and serious efforts to discover the truth about the most important questions facing students and society!
An Agenda of White Supremacy
Horowitz’s list of “dangerous” professors includes a “who’s who” of prominent African-American academics, representing many outlooks, fields of study and perspectives: Law Professor Derrick Bell, former Clinton cabinet member Mary Frances Berry, Kathleen Cleaver, author Michael Eric Dyson, poet Amiri Baraka, bell hooks, Manning Marable, and many more. Other prominent Black academics, like Cornel West, are attacked in the book as well.
“The Professors…” goes after others who have made critical contributions to the study of slavery, sharecropping, and present-day discrimination against African-Americans. Eric Foner, the premier documenter of the promise and betrayal of Reconstruction, is on the list. A large number of Latino professors are targeted by “The Professors…” as well. Take a quick look at some basic facts that Horowitz associates with “dangerous” professors:
“Columbus’s actions launched an era of modern colonialism, rape, pillage, genocide, cultural destruction, slavery, economic and environmental devastation.” (page 51)
“Slavery is, as an example of what white America has done, a constant reminder of what white America might do.” (p 60)
(Without affirmative action) “We’re going to see a disproportionate amount of Latino students unable to continue on to a higher eduction.” (p. 153)
Imagine, again, a campus atmosphere where such truths are not allowed in or out of the classroom, and you can get an important piece of Horowitz’s agenda. Another piece of that agenda is revealed by Horowitz’s obsession with attacking the demand for reparations to Black people for slavery, and his argument that “Black people owe (a debt) to America” for slavery. Grotesquely reversing the real story of slavery, KKK terror, and brutal segregation, Horowitz demanded in ads run in campus newspapers: “Where is the gratitude of black America and its leaders for those gifts?”
Branding Opposition to the War as “Terrorism”
In the friendly environs of the 700 Club, Horowitz spelled out a major theme in his book—any questioning or opposition to the US war on Iraq is pro-terrorist: “I estimate that there are 50,000 to 60,000 radical professors who want the terrorists to win and us to lose the war on terror. They regard the terrorists as freedom fighters and America is an imperialist power that oppresses third-world people, and we are the root cause of the attacks on us.”
And in “The Professors…”, Horowitz attacks statements such as,“What greater abdication of responsibility as both citizen and scholar than to remain silent in the face of Guantánamo, Abu Ghrayb, and Fallujah?” (p. 76). And, “Scratch the surface of U.S. rhetoric about its quest to bring freedom and democracy to the world and one finds the suffering of the people who must live with the reality of U.S. foreign policy.” (p.239)
Another “dangerous” claim: “American motives (in the invasion of Iraq) were not self-defense of but dreams of hegemony: namely the control of oil, a permanent military force that could virtually eliminate any geostrategic competition in the Gulf and an encirclement and ultimate invasion of Iran.” (248-249)
Any campus that banned discussion and debate over the questions posed by these attacked quotes would be a shamefully and deadly repressive environment.
Off Limits—Questioning Repression, Globalization, Greed, or Capitalism
“The Professors…” attacks a wide range of study, insight into, or criticism of capitalism. Among the statements Horowitz attacks professors for making:
“Structural changes because of globalization have led to increasing economic disparities between the wealthy and the poor. As a result, the highest concentration of poverty is found among urban school children and racially oppressed groups.” (p 63)
“We need to clarify the connections between U.S. capitalism, global conquest, and visions of empire…”
Ruling such discussion out-of-order on campus would be to rule out-of-order exploring fundamental questions. In fact, hardly any serious inquiry into the state of the world escapes Horowitz’s fire, including this insight into the state of repression in the U.S. today and the danger of that taking yet another leap: “Given an Attorney General like John Ashcroft, the domestic face of the American global design is revealed as a kind of proto-fascist mentality that is prepared to use extreme methods to reach its goals. Without being paranoid, this is the sort of mentality that is capable of fabricating a Reichstag fire as a pretext, so as to achieve more and more control by the state over supposed islands of resistance.” (p. 161—The Reichstag fire was a pretext Hitler used to smash opposition to his rule.)
We Need Much More Critical Thought on Campus
The set of perspectives, truths, and questions that Horowitz would suppress from academic discourse reveals a vicious and reactionary agenda. Far from a campaign for “free speech,” “academic freedom,” or a “students bill of rights,” Horowitz’s agenda, with his campus spy network, his proposed laws, and his book, adds up to a serious and dangerous element of a larger agenda of endless war and repression.
The Horowitz attack on critical thought on campuses and beyond comes at a time when large numbers of people are coming up against, and raising profound questions about, the direction of society. And, at a time when the government is vastly expanding illegal, warrantless phone tapping, snooping on people’s library reading, and locking up “bad guys” on the President’s say-so, without any legal rights. In the context of all that, Horowitz is not about ensuring those questions can be raised and debated. Just the opposite—his book, and his so-called “academic bill of rights,” are about crushing critical thinking on campuses and beyond. The very questions “The Professors…” seeks to suppress need to become much more widely discussed, debated, struggled over, and ultimately acted on, on campuses from coast to coast.
Horowitz on Women’s Intelligence
In a final chapter of “The Professors…,” Horowitz upholds the claim by Lawrence Summers, the now-resigned President of Harvard University, that women aren’t mentally capable of making the same contributions to “high end” science as men. Horowitz claims that “Summers’s remarks reflected the conclusions of a large body of neuro-scientific data and opinion.” He documents his claim with a footnote that looks like it is citing an authoritative study. In fact, the footnote refers to a debate between two Harvard psychologists on Summers’s remarks.
In fact, Summers’s views do not reflect the body of scientific understanding, or even a credible “alternative” understanding of the issues involved. Addressing his charges, the American Sociological Association Council said, “The most compelling patterns shown by research are that people’s abilities, as measured by job outcomes, are shaped by and interact with social influences.” The presidents of Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Princeton University (two of them women scientists) said Summers’s claim was a “myth.” Many, many heavily researched studies refute Summers’s claim, and those studies reflect the “professionally agreed-on methodologies and standards” that Horowitz’s book claims to insist on. Except when they contradict his reactionary ideology and politics.
Horowitz To Debate Churchill
And, as we go to press, Horowitz’s student Web site is announcing a debate between University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill and Horowitz at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 6, at the Jack Morton Auditorium at the George Washington University Campus in Washington, D.C.
Churchill emerged as a flashpoint in the battle over critical thinking on campuses when powerful reactionary forces ranging from the Governor of Colorado to Bill O’Reilly called for his firing from the University of Colorado, in response to comments Churchill made after the September 11 attacks.
Horowitz’s Web site charged that “Churchill is typical of the hate-America academic left—a fifth column every bit as much a threat to our survival as Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Sixties rioters are today’s professors. They’ve created universities that mirror their mindset. Women’s Studies, African American Studies, Hispanic Studies, ethnic studies, Gay and Lesbian Studies are excuses for neo-Marxist indoctrination (where race, gender, or sexuality substitute for “class”)….”
Emma Perez, who assumed the position of Chair of the Ethnic Studies Department at Colorado after Churchill was forced out, made these observations about the stakes of the attack on Churchill in an article in Counterpunch: “We have to be as clear as possible about the big picture. This is much, much bigger than an individual attack on Ward. What we’re looking at is a carefully developed, pre-existing national strategy that has been searching for exactly the right breakthrough ‘test case.’ It has found extremely favorable conditions in Ward’s situation and in the post-911 climate. As they’ve been doing already in other areas, they want to dismantle the structural footholds (academic freedom/tenure, ethnic studies) that social movements gained for people of color and liberal and progressive intellectuals inside academe during the ’60s & ’70s. … This is a fight to make history.”