The NAACP's Red Smear Artist

Last week, in a lame stab at an October surprise, the NAACP released a report by a pair of presumed authorities, Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind, on the alleged links between "certain Tea Party factions and acknowledged racist hate groups."

About Burghart I know little, but Zeskind has been frightening his fellow travelers in mid-America with a projected "abyss of mayhem and murder" for the last two decades.  Indeed, Zeskind could find racists in each of the nine choirs of angels and feel comfortable designating at least three of those choirs as hate groups.

Yet for all his fear-mongering, the Amazing Zeskind has chosen to keep mum about certain hardcore extremist groups of his acquaintance. And with good reason.  He himself has carried their banners.

Zeskind first surfaced in Kansas City in 1973 as the front man for The Sojourner Truth Organization (STO). STO's primary role, according to its own literature, was to motivate the working classes "to make a revolution." This was more than just bong-inspired bravado. The STO unabashedly quoted role model Josef Stalin on the need for "iron discipline." They played for keeps.

In 1978, Zeskind penned an article for the journal Urgent Tasks titled "Workplace Struggles in Kansas City." In the article, Zeskind talks about the value of a grassroots "school of communism," one conceived "to destroy the marketplace, not sell at it." The journal, by the way, took its title from a quote by a certain V.I. Lenin.

In 1981 Bruce Rodgers, the future editor of Kansas City's left-wing alternative journal, profiled Zeskind in an article on radical activism. He described Zeskind as elusive, paranoid, "near hysterical." As to Zeskind's beloved STO, says Rodgers, "They surface on occasion to distract and intimidate non-violent groups working for social change."

How Zeskind would transform himself from a feckless neo-Stalinist into a civil rights icon is one of those great, only-in-America kinds of success stories. To understand it, however, we need to make a quick detour to Mother Russia.

The opening of the Soviet vaults and the release of the decrypted Venona files has revealed whole new bags of KGB dirty tricks. A favored commie prank was to send racist threats to high-profile groups and attribute those threats to the Jewish Defense League, the John Birch Society, or other right-wing organizations.

As British author Mark Shields notes in his study of the Mitrokhin files, the Soviets hoped "to weaken the internal cohesion of the United States and undermine its international reputation by inciting race hatred."

Back home, our local Marxists were playing much the same game. Sending fake hate mail was a favored practice, for instance, of James Jones' socialist People's Temple in the 1970s. I am inclined to believe, in fact, that the racist threats that defined Hank Aaron's pursuit of Babe Ruth's home run record in 1973-1974 were largely manufactured.

In 1979, the race game got out of hand when the Communist Worker's Party (CWP) provoked a lethal shootout with the increasingly absurd Ku Klux Klan. In its aftermath, many of these groups, and others more innocuous, united to form the National Anti-Klan Network (NAKN).

In 1982 the radical publication Workers Vanguard described the NAKN as a loose coaltion of Southern ministers and "the remnants of the pro-Peking Stalinists." In 1986, the NAKN changed its name to the Center for Democratic Renewal (CDR), likely to blur its radical roots. 

At that time, Zeskind was listed as the CDR's "director of research." Despite his affection for totalitarian governments, Zeskind was now presenting himself as a fearless champion of civil rights, "the target of a number of anti-Semitic racist groups."

Apparently, Zeskind came to the task well-armed. According to a 1991 issue of Details magazine, "Lenny" was the proud owner of a shotgun and a Mini .14, "the far right's weapon of choice," and was hoping for a 9mm handgun for his next birthday.

In 1989, after tales of his past had begun to circulate, Zeskind went public with his own history. Sort of. He told one Jewish newspaper, "I was never the kind of Marxist-Leninist that they think of" and argued that, in any case, socialism was no longer a "defining feature of my politics."

Curiously, the CDR and other Marxist-Leninist groups were busily redefining themselves along similar lines. Much as the Comintern shifted in the 1930s from revolution to the more popular "anti-fascism," America's Marxists shifted from revolution to the always popular anti-racism. In this light, Zeskind's non-apology seems to represent not so much a change of heart as a change of tactics.

Like other groups that make their living protecting America against hate -- the Southern Poverty Law Center comes to mind -- Zeskind and pals have turned a belligerently blind eye to the Islamic groups that pose a genuine threat to their donor base.

Watching this rabid watchdog over the years has been Laird Wilcox, a lifetime ACLU and Amnesty International member whose extensive collection on political extremism, left and right, is housed in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas.

As a committed civil libertarian, Wilcox is appalled by the Cheka-like flavor of alleged anti-racists like Zeskind. They have dealt with the objective decline of racism, Wilcox notes, "by expanding the definition of racism to meet their needs, to include more and more behaviors, and to require more and more invasive remedies."

One methodology of choice is that old Stalinist standby, "ritual defamation." Says Wilcox bluntly, "The primary purpose of Watchdog organizations seems to be to call people names in the hope of defaming, discrediting, stigmatizing or neutralizing them."

As to Zeskind, he has imagined an impending "white Christian nation" that somehow manages to accommodate both anti-statist Christians and pagan Nazi socialists. He and his acolytes have made this oxymoron work in the public mind by routinely linking what he calls "the God, guts and guns crowd" with racists and fascists.

This strategy has reached its apogee in the relentless attempt to smear the Tea Party movement.  We will see soon enough how well -- or how poorly -- it has succeeded.
Last week, in a lame stab at an October surprise, the NAACP released a report by a pair of presumed authorities, Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind, on the alleged links between "certain Tea Party factions and acknowledged racist hate groups."

About Burghart I know little, but Zeskind has been frightening his fellow travelers in mid-America with a projected "abyss of mayhem and murder" for the last two decades.  Indeed, Zeskind could find racists in each of the nine choirs of angels and feel comfortable designating at least three of those choirs as hate groups.

Yet for all his fear-mongering, the Amazing Zeskind has chosen to keep mum about certain hardcore extremist groups of his acquaintance. And with good reason.  He himself has carried their banners.

Zeskind first surfaced in Kansas City in 1973 as the front man for The Sojourner Truth Organization (STO). STO's primary role, according to its own literature, was to motivate the working classes "to make a revolution." This was more than just bong-inspired bravado. The STO unabashedly quoted role model Josef Stalin on the need for "iron discipline." They played for keeps.

In 1978, Zeskind penned an article for the journal Urgent Tasks titled "Workplace Struggles in Kansas City." In the article, Zeskind talks about the value of a grassroots "school of communism," one conceived "to destroy the marketplace, not sell at it." The journal, by the way, took its title from a quote by a certain V.I. Lenin.

In 1981 Bruce Rodgers, the future editor of Kansas City's left-wing alternative journal, profiled Zeskind in an article on radical activism. He described Zeskind as elusive, paranoid, "near hysterical." As to Zeskind's beloved STO, says Rodgers, "They surface on occasion to distract and intimidate non-violent groups working for social change."

How Zeskind would transform himself from a feckless neo-Stalinist into a civil rights icon is one of those great, only-in-America kinds of success stories. To understand it, however, we need to make a quick detour to Mother Russia.

The opening of the Soviet vaults and the release of the decrypted Venona files has revealed whole new bags of KGB dirty tricks. A favored commie prank was to send racist threats to high-profile groups and attribute those threats to the Jewish Defense League, the John Birch Society, or other right-wing organizations.

As British author Mark Shields notes in his study of the Mitrokhin files, the Soviets hoped "to weaken the internal cohesion of the United States and undermine its international reputation by inciting race hatred."

Back home, our local Marxists were playing much the same game. Sending fake hate mail was a favored practice, for instance, of James Jones' socialist People's Temple in the 1970s. I am inclined to believe, in fact, that the racist threats that defined Hank Aaron's pursuit of Babe Ruth's home run record in 1973-1974 were largely manufactured.

In 1979, the race game got out of hand when the Communist Worker's Party (CWP) provoked a lethal shootout with the increasingly absurd Ku Klux Klan. In its aftermath, many of these groups, and others more innocuous, united to form the National Anti-Klan Network (NAKN).

In 1982 the radical publication Workers Vanguard described the NAKN as a loose coaltion of Southern ministers and "the remnants of the pro-Peking Stalinists." In 1986, the NAKN changed its name to the Center for Democratic Renewal (CDR), likely to blur its radical roots. 

At that time, Zeskind was listed as the CDR's "director of research." Despite his affection for totalitarian governments, Zeskind was now presenting himself as a fearless champion of civil rights, "the target of a number of anti-Semitic racist groups."

Apparently, Zeskind came to the task well-armed. According to a 1991 issue of Details magazine, "Lenny" was the proud owner of a shotgun and a Mini .14, "the far right's weapon of choice," and was hoping for a 9mm handgun for his next birthday.

In 1989, after tales of his past had begun to circulate, Zeskind went public with his own history. Sort of. He told one Jewish newspaper, "I was never the kind of Marxist-Leninist that they think of" and argued that, in any case, socialism was no longer a "defining feature of my politics."

Curiously, the CDR and other Marxist-Leninist groups were busily redefining themselves along similar lines. Much as the Comintern shifted in the 1930s from revolution to the more popular "anti-fascism," America's Marxists shifted from revolution to the always popular anti-racism. In this light, Zeskind's non-apology seems to represent not so much a change of heart as a change of tactics.

Like other groups that make their living protecting America against hate -- the Southern Poverty Law Center comes to mind -- Zeskind and pals have turned a belligerently blind eye to the Islamic groups that pose a genuine threat to their donor base.

Watching this rabid watchdog over the years has been Laird Wilcox, a lifetime ACLU and Amnesty International member whose extensive collection on political extremism, left and right, is housed in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas.

As a committed civil libertarian, Wilcox is appalled by the Cheka-like flavor of alleged anti-racists like Zeskind. They have dealt with the objective decline of racism, Wilcox notes, "by expanding the definition of racism to meet their needs, to include more and more behaviors, and to require more and more invasive remedies."

One methodology of choice is that old Stalinist standby, "ritual defamation." Says Wilcox bluntly, "The primary purpose of Watchdog organizations seems to be to call people names in the hope of defaming, discrediting, stigmatizing or neutralizing them."

As to Zeskind, he has imagined an impending "white Christian nation" that somehow manages to accommodate both anti-statist Christians and pagan Nazi socialists. He and his acolytes have made this oxymoron work in the public mind by routinely linking what he calls "the God, guts and guns crowd" with racists and fascists.

This strategy has reached its apogee in the relentless attempt to smear the Tea Party movement.  We will see soon enough how well -- or how poorly -- it has succeeded.

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