On the very day that NYPD officers Rafial Ramos and Wenjin Liu were assassinated, the "pacifist" organizations the War Resisters League (WRL) and the AJ Muste Memorial Institute (AJMMI) chose to, at that moment, decorate their building in downtown Manhattan with banners, bunting and graphics celebrating America's most famous cop-killer, Mumia Abu-Jamal. How's that for representing the spirit of nonviolence such groups claim to uphold?
Indeed, this is not as astonishing as it might seem. For this year's fundraising campaign, the AJMMI sent into the world a funding appeal written by none other than the aforementioned Mumia Abu-Jamal, himself an arch-antithesis of the embodiment of nonviolence.
After the publication of my Breitbart article on new AJMMI head Heidi Boghosian's previous work on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, several former and disaffected contributors to the AJMMI and its sister organization, the WRL, contacted me to give more details of an insalubrious transformation of pacifist organizations into extremist, ideologically irrational, non-pacifist outfits.
The AJMMI is the non-profit umbrella under which tax-exempt donations go to the WRL. The AJMMI owns the 339 Lafayette and Bleecker building in Manhattan, which it bought to house the WRL. It is crumbling (like the WRL itself) and is now on sale.
Former members of the WRL angrily accuse those who run the organization of practicing "nonviolence in name only." They also claim that the present governing clique steering the league today are misrepresenting the league's famous term "revolutionary nonviolence." It does not mean using nonviolence as a tactic to advance traditional revolution (particularly not of the bloody and repressive kind). What "revolutionary nonviolence" means is "nonviolence itself is revolutionary" -- something much more profound, as it breaks with tens of thousands of years of human bloodshed.
The significant shift in pacifist organizations toward an acceptance of left-wing violence began during the Vietnam War. A decision was made by the pacifists to put aside their differences with the communists and accept them into a coalition to force American withdrawal from Vietnam. The coalition was called the National Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE). Thereafter, bon vivant, cafe-society photographer Karl Bissinger became a WRL staff person and chief fundraiser. He arrived from the nearby Greenwich Village Peace Center. Officially, the center gave counseling to persons resisting the Vietnam-era draft. Semi-officially, it sheltered the Committee to Aid the National Liberation Front (CANLF), at the invitation of Bissinger, writer Grace Paley (it was Paley who boosted of her “combative pacifism” and extolled the 7-hour speeches of Fidel Castro as worthy of encomia, and who lauded the Vietnamese Communists and later fulminated against good-hearted Americans who adopted abandoned Vietnamese orphans) and other "radical chic" types. The National Liberation Front of South Vietnam that CANLF abetted is better known as the Viet Cong, a bloodthirsty puppet terrorist organization created by Stalinist North Vietnam to wage war on the independent non-communist nation of South Vietnam and the organization responsible for killing the Americans sent to help the South resist the Communists' aggression.
In 1968, David McReynolds (see previous story on Catholic Worker), a functionary of the WRL and one of its most recognizable leaders, ran for Congress as part of the Peace and Freedom Party, headed by Black Panther Party "information minister" Eldridge Cleaver. (Strange bedfellow for a putative pacifist.) Earlier that year, Cleaver published "Soul on Ice," loudly declaring his willingness to use violence. Two days after Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in April 1968, Cleaver secretly sent out orders to the Panthers to assassinate police officers (note: the police had nothing to do with King's assassination by James Earl Ray), and Cleaver personally took part in an attack on police officers in San Francisco. When police began to search for violent Panther members, the Panthers in New York City knew where to turn. Karl Bissinger, years later, admitted to confidants that during that time certain Black Panther fugitives would meet with him on the roof of the old Triangle Shirtwaist Factory building (now NYU's main academic building) to collect money and false passports that would enable them to flee to Europe or elsewhere.
Meanwhile, as many of them embraced violent fugitives who terrorized the black community, the WRL leadership launched an attack on the single most famous and respected member of the League: the civil rights champion and March on Washington organizer Bayard Rustin. In 1965 Rustin resigned from the executive committee of the WRL, saying that he had been "distressed and concerned about the policies now being followed by the League especially in regard to Vietnam." What he was hoping for, in the words of Michael Long, editor of I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin's Life in Letters, was "not an immediate, and unilateral, withdrawal of US forces from Vietnam, but rather a negotiated settlement that would not appease pro-communist forces." This was not popular with WRL's leadership -- people like McReynolds, who referred to the Viet Cong as "comrades" and rationalized that "[w]e must accept the fact that there may be times and places when what is for us a personal imperative may not be for them a personal imperative and also may not be a political reality. And in that sense we would not be absolute pacifists." (Years later, that attitude lingered on, with Karl Bissinger ridiculing a friend dismayed with the WRL's lack of commitment to nonviolence by telling him not to be a "Johnny one-note" because "[n]o one here at the League is a true pacifist anymore.") On June 28, 1970, Rustin, a lifelong defender of Jewish civil rights and security, and 60 fellow prominent black civil rights advocates placed an ad in the New York Times urging United States government support for Israel. This touched off an angry exchange of letters between WRL leaders Jim Peck, Igal Rodenko and David McReynolds on the one side and Rustin on the other, in which Peck and McReynolds accused Rustin of selling out to the LBJ/Humphrey Democrats and referring to him as "house n-gger for the Democratic Party."
After the war, some members of what social scientist Michael Walzer has called the "decent Left" were morally astute enough to sign leading anti-war activist Joan Baez's "Open Letter to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam," which ran as a full page ad in the New York Times on May 30, 1979, condemning the Communists' human rights atrocities. The ad noted:
- The jails are overflowing with thousands upon thousands of "detainees."
- People disappear and never return.
- People are shipped to re-education centers, fed a starvation diet of stale rice, forced to squat bound wrist to ankle, suffocated in "connex" boxes.
- People are used as human mine detectors, clearing live mine fields with their hands and feet.
McReynolds and the WRL leadership lacked the decency to join in signing Baez's letter -- and, in fact, opposed it.
Inside the penthouse of the late prominent WRL fundraiser Karl Bissinger was his library. The book which he gave pride of place to was "Prairie Fire," the 1976 political screed of the Weather Underground terrorist organization. Such sympathies with this violent faction was why Bissinger was, from time to time, entrusted babysitting for Chesa Boudin, the infant son of Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert (who remains in state prison for murder) after their role in the deadly Nyack Brinks robbery. Bissinger told confidants that, contrary to a popularly promoted story, the name Chesa was an honorific celebrating cop-killer Joanne Chesimard of the Black Liberation Army (BLA), herself today in exile in Communist Cuba. The reason why Bissinger agreed to take care of young Chesa was because, according to the child's grandmother, the BLA members Chesa was entrusted to would slap him for doing what babies do -- cry -- and scream "none of your white skin privilege, baby!" It was later that Chesa was adopted by Weather Underground terrorists Bernardine Dohrn and William Ayers.
In the 1980s, McReynolds opposed the South African Army's forced conscription policy on a national-wide tour, but when asked to do the same in opposing the Nicaraguan Sandinistas' forced conscription, which involved kidnapping young boys found on the dirt roads of Nicaragua and forcing them into military service, McReynolds said they would not oppose the Sandinistas as it would be giving aid and comfort to President Ronald Reagan. Such selectivity is what is meant by "pacifism in name only" on the part of those who, like McReynolds, the WRL and the AJMMI, are presently doing their best to denature and nullify the ethos and practice of nonviolence itself.
The WRL was once a mass organization, whereas it has now dwindled to below 5,000 members. Knowledgeable members attribute this to the league's ever-increasing willingness to collaborate with violent organizations and causes (as one member put it, "accommodationism with violence," something many of these long-standing pacifists refuse to tolerate), as well as its extreme criticism of Israel (including the familiar leftist trope that support for Israel is the "root cause" of 9/11) and its growing anti-Americanism.
The WRL and the AJMMI figures have become so dogmatic that they cannot even distinguish friend from foe. Eric Alterman is considered a "warmonger," in the words of the WRL's current fundraiser. Another of their recent proud achievements was the combined WRL-Catholic Worker-Witness Against Torture action that disrupted a left-leaning anti-deportation speech by Senator Richard Durbin on the Senate floor by their decibel-breaking screeching against "torture." (Included in this action was Dorothy Day's seventh granddaughter Martha Henessy, who proudly reported on the interruption in the Catholic Worker and mischaracterized Durbin's speech in support of "DREAMers" as focused on counterterrorism.) Ironically, Senator Durbin's most provocative act was a 2005 speech stating that American interrogations of detainees were reminiscent of the tactics used by "Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime, Pol Pot or others, that had no concern for human beings."
Alas, the pacifist movement, as represented by the cop-killer-loving AJMMI, the WRL and associated groups, have let down the decent votaries of nonviolence. They are well-nigh nihilistic and are now nearly the antithesis of their founding principles.
Spyridon Mitsotakis is a graduate of New York University’s History Department and a writer for Frontpage Magazine and Breitbart News Network.