Right after 9/11 many social justice minded people conducted teach-ins on hundreds of campuses across the United States. David Horowitz got really riled about this. For David Horowitz, an ex-left wing activist turned ultra-right attack dog, it was his chance to go after the Left and its legacy from the sixties.
Horowitz was well known as a prominent intellectual of the New Left, who later denounced the left and turned to the far right. Back in the 60’s he was the editor of Ramparts magazine, an influential leftist publication, being a red diaper baby before that. He became a close ally to the Black Panther Party. After he authorized his secretary to do work for the Panthers, she was found murdered. The murder remained unsolved but he blamed her murder on the Panthers, and describes as his descent to the political Right. He built a career on his god that failed story, and used his former position to now attack the Left in a hyperbolic form.
In the 80’s he founded a foundation, the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, and put out a magazine Heterodoxy, which attacked so-called political correctness on campuses. His diatribes of the American Left as a traitorous fifth column, out to destroy civilization, has earned him much prominence in right wing circles and the college lecture circuit. He has made a career as a professional anti-Leftist, with his Center for the Study of Popular Culture, now the David Horowitz Freedom Center, receiving much funding from right wing foundations. He also had the online magazine Frontpagemag.com, posting his and other over the top articles. He emphasizes that since the Left fights dirty, the Right should fight dirty too.
Horowitz received great publicity in 2001 when he attempted to put an ad in campus newspapers, funded by the CSPC, criticizing the growing movement demanding reparations for slavery. Many of the arguments used were rightly considered by many to be racist. These ads, often full page, said things such as Black Americans do not deserve compensation for slavery because White Christians ended slavery years ago; and Blacks already have a form of reparations because they already received redresses through welfare and affirmative action. These arguments were rightly seen as racist. Refusals of many newspapers to run the ad, and the reactions of many students to papers that did run the ad, turned the issue into a free speech fight, giving Horowitz more platforms to spread his twisted reactionary views. It is not surprising that Horowitz would see an opportunity in 9/11 and a nascent anti-war movement.
The aftermath of September 11th, and the subsequent peace rallies and teach-ins on campuses, gave Horowitz another opportunity to spew his hate against the Left. He attempted to place another ad in campus newspapers against anti-war activism. Controversy over these ads too raised questions about free speech, even though Horowitz did not want antiwar students to use theirs. The ad was in the form of a pamphlet that he had his followers distribute. Horowitz said he was trying to reach students who “hate America so much, they are willing to weaken the country.”, for students “full of your own self-righteousness, but who one day might also live to regret what you have done.” Talk about self-righteousness.
The pamphlet is entitled, “Think Twice Before Bringing the War Home.” The slogan Bring the War Home was associated with the more militant wings of the anti-war movement, especially the Weathermen. He saw the anti-war movement as a whole as a treasonous fifth column that was against America as well as the war. He spoke as a former anti-war activist appealing to college students not to join the anti-war movement. Horowitz was quoted as saying that the US was “too tolerant of treason from its enemies within the country (1), while also claiming that leftists were rejoicing in the attacks of September 11th.
“If I have one regret from my radical years, it is that this country was too tolerant towards the treason of its enemies within. If patriotic Americans had been more vigilant in the defense of their country, if they had called things by their right names, if they had confronted us with the seriousness of our attacks, they might have caught the attention of those of us who were well meaning, if utterly misguided. And they might have stopped us in our tracks.”
He bemoaned his own activism in the Vietnam War, saying that their protests helped prolong the war and gave South Vietnam to the communists. (2) The rightness of the war has long been discredited, even by many proponents of it at the time, but Horowitz wants to change the narrative on it. Most established opinion is that the war was unwinnable no matter what, and his idea that the US was not allowed to win has a place only on the fringes of the right wing.
The pamphlet is divided into three parts, the first part titled “The Sick Mind of Noam Chomsky.” Chomsky being one of the main critics of US foreign policy and popular among the nominal left, Horowitz went after him and his anti-imperialist politics. The pamphlet even has a picture of Chomsky on the front cover. He cites in this diatribe one short pamphlet of Chomsky’s many works to call the dissident intellectual “the ayatollah of anti-American hate.” (That year on frontpagemag.com, he had an image of Chomsky and Palestinian intellectual Edward Said skewed to make them look like Bin Laden). Some of the other adjectives he uses to describe Chomsky are “natural mendacity,” “anti-American dementia,” “vile teachings,” “pathological hatred of his country,” making “offensive and preposterous claims,” and having “rancid works.” Chomsky is to him part of the “Fifth Column Left.” It’s clear he does not like Chomsky.
Then there is “A Menace in the House, which targeted Barbara Lee, the sole congressperson who voted against authorization for war. Even that little dissent was too much for Horowitz. He goes to classic redbaiting by bringing up Lee’s previous support for the socialist government of Grenada that was overthrown by the United States in 1983, accusing her of treason.
Then there is Allies in War, targeting Bill Ayers, former Weather Underground leader who is now a professor. Since he was featured in the New York Times the same day as the attacks promoting his memoir, Horowitz used him to describe everyone who is a critic of US foreign policy. He linked the terrorism of the radical left before with the Islamist terrorism of today, even saying that Leftists and Islamists were allies.
Horowitz’s other resources were put to use in just as vile a way. Scott Rubush, an associate editor of Frontpage Magazine, used the website to campaign against four faculty members at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where he was an alma mater, for participating in a teach-in criticizing US foreign policy. He said on radio that “they’re using state resources to the practical effect of aiding and abetting the Taliban,” and called on people at UNC-Chapel Hill to pressure UNC administrators and trustees to go after them. This caused some of the professors to get death threats. (3)
Later in 2006, Horowitz came out with a book, “The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America.” It made a dossier of professors he considered anti-American. He even admits that he was using the tactics of Joseph McCarthy, a blacklist, in his war in academia.
The deranged rantings of David Horowitz is just by another right wing attack dog who wants to roll back the gains made by modern progressive movements that peaked in the sixties. Horowitz’s previous stances on the Vietnam War were right, and he took a wrong position on it with his turn to the Right. He has been proven wrong with his support for the nascent War on Terror. With the quagmire that became the Iraq War and the costs and effects of them now present, his and the rest of the right wing support for increased militarism has come back on them. The wars have continued under Obama, and the instability of the region led to the creation of ISIS.
The fact is that David Horowitz in his present form was the effect of a concerted effort by right wing foundations to use their money to shape and change the social agenda of the United States to a more reactionary one. And universities became a major area of struggle in this fight. One way Horowitz fought that war was in spreading the myth that universities are hotbeds of radicalism.
Robert Jensen on David Horowitz and the Myth of the Radical Campus
After David Horowitz did a lecture at the University of Texas at Austin in early 2001, professor Robert Jensen wrote a column disputing Horowitz’s claim that universities are nests of left wing radicals. This has been a common right wing trope, but it has remained a prevalent myth that university faculty as a whole leans to the left. This was a surprise to Jensen, who wrote that “more company would be nice.” (4)
In contrast, Jensen says that American universities are actually centrist to right wing institutions, saying that “the typical American university is dominated by centrist to moderate conservative faculty members and administrators, with steady movement to the right in the past two decades.” The process of corporatization in the universities is another factor that limits any potential radicalism coming from modern academia:
“More and more, universities are influenced by the wealthy donors and corporations that exercise increasing power as public funding for higher education shrinks. Professors, no matter what the nature of their research, are being told that attracting outside funding is increasingly a requirement for tenure and promotion.”
“That means that people doing work that critiques the fundamental assumptions of powerful institutions in this culture (one reasonable definition of a “leftist”) are becoming even more marginalized….squeezed out by a system that values conformity and subordination to power more than deep critique.”
“That should be a concern not just to aspiring academics but to a society that wants to call itself democratic. If higher education is not a place for critical self-reflection on the powerful, were all in trouble.”
Jensen continues in the column that he doesn’t expect an institution like a university that, like others dominant institutions, tend to reproduce similar relationships of power, to go out of their way to foster dissent. But Jensen sees a need for debate on whether universities should be maintained as places for independent critical inquiry. As a tenured professor, he acknowledged the privileges he gets because of that, but worries that these freedoms are being eroded because of the market influence of higher education.
David Horowitz was just one of the several right wing attacks that happened at the universities after 9/11. He himself says that they are at war with the Left, using the label of treason for dissent and critical inquiry. Other sectors of the Right also saw 9/11 as an opportunity to attack universities not just for the growth of anti-war sentiment from there, but as areas to put forward an agenda of economic and cultural chauvinism.
- Hayasaki, Erica. “Conservative’s Ad Criticizing Antiwar Protests Angers Students.” Los Angeles Times. September 28, 2001.
- Horowitz, David. “Think Twice, Before you Bring the War Home.” pamphlet. Center for the Study of Popular Culture. 2001. Horowitz argued this in the more recent propaganda film by Andrew Brietbart, Occupy Unmasked (2012), where he gave the same spiel, more than 11 years after 9/11.
- Glenn, David. “The War on Campus.” The Nation. December 3, 2001.
- Jensen, Robert. “Horowitz and the Myth of the Radical Campus.” commondreams.org. March 24, 2001. Jensen mentions the McCombs School for Business, the business school at UT Austin, as an example of the real political bent of the university, well-funded and lacking of any leftists, for “they are a bastion of conservatism where no critique of the basic nature of corporate capitalism is voiced.”At the University of New Mexico, where I conducted my studies, the biggest funded school there is the Anderson School of Management, which received $5.54 million in 2001-02. Its purpose there is the same, to continue and justify the system of corporate capitalism. Doubt any socialist or leftist economists there.