Something We Did

A new play slanders me as a villain -- while praising the Left's cold-blooded killers.

[Editor's note: Below is David Horowitz's response to "Something You Did," a play recently shown at Theater J which praises convicted Weather Underground terrorist Kathy Boudin and slanders Horowitz by making him a sinister character in the script.]

Just before Labor Day this year, a theater review in the Washington Post alerted me to the fact that someone had made me, or a fictional representation of me, into a principal character in his play. Something You Did purports to be a drama about the parole appeal of an actual person, Kathy Boudin, who forty years ago was a member of two violent organizations and was directly involved in the violent deaths of six human beings (although the play mentions only one). Despite the fact that I myself was never the member of any violent group and never so much as threw a rock in the Sixties, the author has cast my character as the bad guy in his fiction, complicit in her crime, and an embodiment of the forces that Boudin opposed at the time and that he opposes now.

The day after the review appeared, I received a confirming email from my friend of nearly sixty years, Ron Radosh, who had just attended a performance and who sent me a scanned copy of a statement by the author explaining his play. The author identified me as the villain of his drama and said he had chosen me because I had written what he called the most “corrosive” attack on Kathy Boudin when she came up for parole; also because I was “a former radical turned outspoken neo-conservative” and it was his intention to have his play make a statement about the present. Finally, he described the play as asking (and answering) this loaded question: “Whether the radical sins of the past can be forgiven even as the reactionary sins of the present multiply.” Since this is self-evidently a loaded question there is no suspense as to the answer. Boudin caused the deaths of three innocent people and left nine children fatherless. But she is to be forgiven, because she has remained a radical and therefore her heart was and is in the right place. Whatever mistakes she committed, her intention was to save the Vietnamese and other oppressed people from conservatives like myself.

A fiction based on reality can provide useful insights but only if the structure of the facts remains intact. Here are some of the facts, which the author of the play so distorts or misrepresents as to deprive his fiction of the ability to provide insights that are useful for understanding what happened.

To begin, allow me to clear up his malicious claim that there is a moral parallel between Kathy Boudin’s criminal acts and David Horowitz’s “contribution” to the death of Betty van Patter at the hands of the Black Panthers. Kathy Boudin knowingly joined the Weather Underground a radical group whose purpose was to conduct an actual war inside the United States. The Underground set bombs, possibly murdered two police officers (there is a continuing cold case investigation into this) and inadvertently blew up three of its members, when an anti-personnel device intended for others went off prematurely. When the Underground disintegrated and most of its leaders surfaced to return to civilian life, Kathy remained at war, joining a second violent group with identical goals. As a member of the “May 19 Communist Organization,” she participated in an armed robbery in Nyack New York to finance “the revolution.” In the course of the robbery, three officers were murdered, and nine children left fatherless.

There is no parallel in Kathy’s criminal career to what I did as a New Left radical. I never broke a law or plotted to injure another human being. I was the editor of Ramparts, the largest magazine of the left. Although I raised money for the Black Panthers, I never joined their organization. The money I raised was to purchase and build a school. I offered to help only after their leader, Huey Newton, publicly proclaimed that it was “time to put away the gun” and “serve the people.” When I recommended Betty van Patter as a bookkeeper for the “learning center” I had helped to create, I accepted the left’s view of the Panthers as victims of white racism and a noble force in the struggle for racial justice. I had no idea they were capable of cold-blooded murder. At the time I set out to help them, the New York Times was comparing Huey Newton to Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther. Literally.

In retrospect, after Betty was murdered, I realized I should have read the signs and known the dangers, and that is what the conservative part of my life is about. I have written an extensive memoir of these events in which I tried to warn others, and have taken full responsibility for what I did, and in particular for not knowing what I should have known.[1] If Kathy Boudin had done the same, if she had attempted to re-examine the premises that led her to commit her crimes and had made a full accounting, I would not have judged her as harshly as I have.

A crucial fact the play ignores is that I did not need to become a conservative to become a critic of Kathy Boudin and the Weather Underground. In 1971, I wrote a widely read article in Ramparts attacking the Weather Underground for its terrorist ideas and practices. My article focused on the explosion of a bomb that Kathy Boudin’s Weather Underground cell was building and was planning to detonate in a terrorist act. Three members of the cell were killed in the accident, which destroyed the Greenwich Village townhouse they had turned into a bomb factory. Boudin was in the townhouse at the time and survived – and went on to continue her chosen path of radical violence.

The townhouse episode includes crucial facts, which the playwright suppresses in order to load his case for redeeming Boudin, through her character in the play Allison; and also for defending the leftist views that inspired her. In the play, Allison claims that her terrorist acts were aimed at property not people. She is presented as someone innocent of the purposes for which the bomb is to be used. In the play it is my character who persuades her to buy the nails that will be used to turn the bomb into an anti-personnel weapon. The black policeman who becomes the inadvertent victim of the bomb is killed by one of those nails. In the play Allison’s alleged innocence of the bomb’s malicious purpose is central to the plot and to the playwright’s plan to create sympathy and forgiveness for Allison/Kathy and to indict me as the villain.

In real life, however, in that Greenwich Village townhouse, Kathy Boudin and her comrades were deliberately building a bomb filled with nails, which they intended to detonate at a social dance at Fort Dix -- a dance that would be attended by 18-year-old draftees and their dates. In real life, Kathy Boudin was a calculating terrorist with no mercy for those she regarded as her political enemies. My opposition to her parole then and now is because of the criminal acts she committed and her refusal to face up to them -- not because she opposed the Vietnam War.

The only article I ever remember writing about Kathy Boudin’s parole begins with this sentence: “The separate reality of radicals, which made them unable to comprehend their own deeds, was made vivid for me in a New York Times story I read later, about the parole appeal of … Kathy Boudin.”[2] The author of Something You Did never sought to interview me to find out who I was or what views I had of these events before defaming me in his play. He is a perfect example of those radicals who inhabit a separate reality, which makes them unable to understand how others see them and therefore unable to comprehend themselves.

In Something You Did I am represented as a self-serving cynic and a representative specimen of the system I once opposed. My character, “Gene,” cuts million dollar deals on the basis of his fame as a radical turncoat and receives $50,000 speaking fees to spread his noxious views. I wish. Perhaps the playwright was thinking of Cornel West or Michael Moore, who resonate with the prevailing leftwing views of literary and academic culture and who might actually command such contracts and fees.

In addition to being a materialistic narcissist, the character allegedly based on me is also portrayed as an embittered racist, and a xenophobic Jew. I will answer these canards one at a time. In constructing my character as a wealthy cynic the author chooses to confront a radical cliché rather than the reality of the person who was Kathy Boudin’s most corrosive critic. I am pretty much the same individual I was when I was on the left, though hopefully wiser from experience. I am still a missionary and driven by certain ideals, not the avaricious operator represented in the play. My conservative views are driven by what I see as the destructive ambitions and practices of the left, and their negative impact on the very people -- blacks, the poor, and the Vietnamese – whom radicals claim to support. Any honest reader of my work would know that. A confrontation between a radical and a former radical who has had second thoughts about the practical results of his commitments would have provided a more interesting center for this play than the progressive melodrama the author has settled on.

But melodrama it is, and therefore the conservative antagonist must also be exposed not only as an opponent of radical terrorists but as a racist, and since he is Jewish, a tribalist – a “reactionary.” In the play my character refers to the murder of “two” civil rights workers in Mississippi deliberately omitting the third, James Chaney, because he was black and in this reactionary tribalist’s mental universe only Jews count. Just on a personal note, my three black grandchildren would not appreciate this artistic license. Those who have followed my career and writings will know that I am more faithful to the civil rights ideals in which we leftists claimed to believe in the Sixties, than the author of this play. The point I made in my autobiography Radical Son about these issues, which the author has grossly misrepresented is that Jewish radicals like Kathy Boudin feel superior to the groups they are claiming to help, in this instance blacks, and so fail to understand them as individuals. The terrorist act, which provides the basis for this play, was committed by a group of violent black criminals whom Boudin mistook for black victims and comrades. Stokely Carmichael, who is a target of the remarks made by the character associated with me in the play was a black anti-Semite and racist whom Jewish progressives mistook for an ally. That very specific point has simply been distorted beyond recognition by the author in order to smear me and all conservatives as racists.

The play concludes with Allison’s plea to the parole board to be released. She defends herself by claiming that whatever she did and whatever mistakes she made were in behalf of the Vietnamese and Cambodians, and that the real criminals are the Americans who supported the anti-Communist cause. In other words, there is nothing she needs to regret about the political views that led her to commit her heinous acts, and besides her adversaries were much worse.

There are two problems with this attempt at an exculpation. The first is that Kathy Boudin and the anti-war left really didn’t care that much about the Vietnamese and the Cambodians. When America left Indo-China in 1975 and the Cambodians and Vietnamese were being slaughtered by the Communists in one of the largest genocides of the 20th Century, there were no protests by the American left of those atrocities, not by Kathy Boudin and not by her comrades-in-arms.

My second problem with Allison’s appeal is that the factual premise on which it is based is a lie. Kathy Boudin was responsible for the death of a black policeman, Waverly Brown (actually first black policeman ever hired by the Nyack police force). But the act that killed him was not and could not have been a protest against the Vietnam War. Officer Brown was killed by Kathy Boudin and her friends in 1981, when the Communists were in power in Vietnam, and the United States had been out of Indochina for six years.

This play is dishonest in its core. It misrepresents the reasons Kathy Boudin committed her crime; it misrepresents the crime itself; and it whitewashes her culpability as a supporter of terrorist acts. Finally, it misrepresents who I am and why I opposed her parole.

[1] Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey, 1997

[2] “Clinton’s Pardoned Bombers” in Left Illusions: An Intellectual Odyssey.