Barbara Kay: A reformed leftist’s enduring shame


National Post - Wednesday January 29th, 2014

In Los Angeles tonight family, friends and admirers will celebrate the 75th birthday of David Horowitz, the most formidable scourge of the American left since Whittaker Chambers.

Horowitz’s accomplishments run wide and deep. Scholar, polemicist, much-laureled author of many books (several with friend and collaborator Peter Collier), he is also the founder and overseer of the popular conservative online journal, FrontPageMagazine.com, and the enormous data cache exposing the left’s networks and agendas, Discoverthenetworks.org (in his view, the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s “most significant achievement”). Remarkably for his age, Horowitz still engages in daily gladiatorial combat with ideological enemies in government, academia and the media.

Horowitz’s latest project is a 10-volume compilation of his writing. The Black Book of the American Left: My Life and Times, is the first of the series, an essay collection that traces Horowitz’s personal trajectory, from “red diaper” childhood in a hardcore Communist household through New Leftism at Berkeley in the turbulent late 1960s and early ’70s and finally, permanently, to hawkish political conservatism, accompanied by unsparing critiques of his own youthful credulity and lucid, well-annotated insights into the left-wing mindset.

There is no dearth of solid conservative writing in America. But converts from the left bring a unique zeal and fearlessness to their redemptive task. In the old cliché, they know where the bodies are buried, but their witness accounts of the executions and interments add a special fillip to their revelations.

Thus, the most fascinating essay in this collection is “Black Murder Inc.,” which elaborates on the pivotal moment in Horowitz’s journey towards conservatism: the 1974 murder of Betty Van Patter, a fellow activist Horowitz personally recruited for administrative work at an Oakland, California community centre, understood by Horowitz to be wholly devoted to disadvantaged black children, but in fact a shell for laundering the Panthers’ multifaceted criminal activity. Though no charges were ever laid in the killing, over the years, investigators and even those who were close to the Panthers at the time have concluded that Van Patter’s dawning comprehension of the Panthers’ criminal activities marked her for elimination by party members. It was considered an open secret nobody (including Horowitz, with a family to protect) revealed out of fear of reprisal.

Most Americans have no idea of just how ruthless the Black Panther Party was, and how cowed liberal whites were by them, but Horowitz’s essay will enlighten them. When approached about writing the Van Patter story, with evidence provided, a Pulitzer-prize winning white reporter said she “wouldn’t touch it unless a black reporter did it first.” When a TV host requested an interview with former Panther chairman Bobby Seale, then in hiding, having been expelled by Huey Newton (after reportedly Newton personally whipped and sodomized him), Panther big shot Elaine Brown screamed down the phone line (in Horowitz’s horrified presence), “I will kill you, motherf–ker.” Meanwhile Brown hobnobbed with influential policy-makers, and “the Party’s political influence climbed to its zenith. It was an all-American nightmare.”

Horowitz sees conservatism as a temperamental disposition rather than an ideology

Although technically blameless, Horowitz never recovered from the shock or his sense of guilt for facilitating the Van Patter tragedy, a leitmotif that haunts the collection. The murder represented a psychological bright line between innocence and knowledge: Not just knowledge of the evils that the Panthers were perpetuating with impunity endorsed by guilt-ridden white activists (policeman to Peter Collier: “You guys have been cutting our balls off for the last 10 years…and then you expect [us] to solve the murders of your friends”); but also the stunning knowledge that his fellow ideologues — even, passively, Van Patter’s own daughter — were prepared to defend Panther thuggery on the grounds of historical racism.

Horowitz sees conservatism as a temperamental disposition rather than an ideology. He sees leftist ideology, though, as a religion fixated on a utopian future. Its grail is “social justice,” in pursuit of which all is permitted. Consistent with other fundamentalist religions, individual apostasy is perceived as a danger to the community, requiring draconian punishment. As Elaine Brown put it, “Faith was all there was. If I did not believe in the ultimate rightness of our goals and our party, then what we did … what I was, was horrible.”

She was indeed horrible, but never paid a price for it. Today Brown is a warmly-welcomed lecturer on American campuses. Horowitz also lectures on campuses when conservative students have the temerity to invite him. Unlike Brown, though, this apostate requires security to protect him from the intolerant left-wing student mobs he helped Brown and company to create.