Sean Penn's El Chapo Odyssey

A look at the persistent anti-Americanism of the celebrity who secretly interviewed the world's biggest drug lord.

Four months ago, actor Sean Penn managed to secretly arrange and conduct an interview for Rolling Stone magazine with the infamous Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera—commonly known as “El Chapo”—who boasted that he traffics “more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world.” The interview took place in a remote location, deep in the Mexican jungle, at a time when Guzmán, who had escaped from Mexico's most secure prison three months earlier, was running from Mexican and American authorities. In the Rolling Stone article which was based upon that interview, Penn suggests that the United States has been complicit in Guzmán's crimes: “[A]re we, the American public, not indeed complicit in what we demonize? We are the consumers [of drugs], and as such, we are complicit in every murder, and in every corruption of an institution’s ability to protect the quality of life for citizens of Mexico and the United States that comes as a result of our insatiable appetite for illicit narcotics.”

Blaming and despising the U.S. for the sins of so many around the world, while allying himself with America's sworn enemies, is nothing new for Sean Penn. Indeed, it's been a way of life for him—much as it was for his late father, Leo Penn, an actor and director who was blacklisted as a communist when he refused to name names before the House Un-American Activities Committee more than six decades ago.

In the early 2000s, Sean Penn was a supporter of Not In Our Name (NION), a self-described “peace” movement established by the Revolutionary Communist Party. NION was famous for its “Pledge of Resistance,” which condemned the U.S. government's pursuit of “endless war”; its greed-driven “transfusions of blood for oil”; and its eagerness to “invade countries, bomb civilians, [and] kill more children … on foreign soil.” A separate document, the NION “Statement of Conscience,” denounced America's “unjust, immoral, illegitimate, [and] openly imperial policy towards the world.”

In December 2002, Penn made a much-publicized “fact-finding” visit to Baghdad with Medea Benjamin, a lifelong socialist and a devoted comrade of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. Ms. Benjamin founded the anti-capitalist organization Global Exchange as well as Iraq Occupation Watch, which was created for the express purpose of encouraging widespread desertion by “conscientious objectors” in the U.S. military; the goal was to engineer a Vietnam-style defeat for America in the Middle East. Penn's Baghdad trip was organized by the Institute for Public Accuracy, whose executive director was the radical Norman Solomon. Ultimately the trip proved to be of great propaganda value to Saddam Hussein, as Penn spoke out publicly against what he characterized as America's unwarranted aggression.

At the end of May 2003, Penn purchased a full page of advertising space in The New York Timesto display a 4,000-word composition wherein he: (a) discussed what had been his own long period of “rebellion” against the Pledge of Allegiance; (b) revealed that it had taken him “so long to love [and] respect” the American flag, whose associations with “sacrifice and heroism” were “historically and presently intermingled with varying degrees of corruption and exploitation”; and (c) warned that because of America's military involvement in Iraq, the flag now “threatens to become a haunting banner of murder, greed, and treason.” 

In October 2007, Aaron Klein reported that “Muslim terror leaders” were “hailing” statements which Penn had made regarding America's alleged transgressions around the world. For example, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades chief Ala Senakreh announced that he felt “deep respect for Penn and people like him [who] prove that America is not only the country that sponsors the Israeli terrorists and all evil forces in the world.”

After Raul Castro replaced his brother, Fidel Castro, as president of Cuba in 2008, Penn, who had previously met Fidel on at least one occasion, traveled to Havana for a friendly visit with the new dictator.

Yet another Communist tyrant with whom Penn developed a warm relationship was the late president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez. Among the manifestations of Penn's friendship with Chavez were the following:

  • In his televised speeches, Chavez occasionally quoted from Penn’s writing.
  • Penn traveled to South America several times to meet personally with Chavez.
  • In 2007, Penn called Chavez “a fascinating guy” who was “much more positive for Venezuela than … negative.”
  • When Penn read the constitution that Chavez in 2007 was proposing for Venezuela—a constitution that empowered the president to rule by decree—the actor called it “a very beautiful document.”
  • In 2009 Penn described Chavez as “a warm and friendly man with a robust sense of humor.”
  • In a 2010 television interview with Bill Maher, Penn suggested that anyone who referred to Chavez as a dictator should “[go] to prison for these kinds of lies.” 
  • In December 2012, Penn said of Chavez: “He’s one of the most important forces we’ve had on this planet, and I’ll wish him nothing but that great strength he has shown over and over again. I do it in love, and I do it in gratitude.”
  • When Chavez died on March 5, 2013, Penn wept and said: “Today the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion. I lost a friend I was blessed to have.”

In 2011 Penn was a vocal backer of the so-called “Arab Spring,” which saw several Middle Eastern governments overthrown and quickly replaced by radical and violent Islamist movements. In the early fall of that year, for instance, Penn appeared at a protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where he announced his passionate support for the Egyptian revolution and urged “a transition of power from the military to the people.” In a visit to Tripoli a few days later, Penn said there was “no question” that “inspirational Libya” would successfully become a functioning democracy in its post-Qadhafi era. “I am inspired by the Arab Spring,” Penn declared. “... It is amazing what is happening in this part of the world, be it Tunisia, Egypt or Libya.”

In an October 2011 appearance on Piers Morgan's CNN television program, Penn characterized the conservative Tea Party movement as a racist phenomenon whose objective was to “lynch” President Obama. As such, he dubbed it “The 'Get the N-Word Out of the White House Party.'”

That same month, Penn said, “I applaud the spirit” of Occupy Wall Street, the anti-capitalist, anti-corporate movement that was beginning to spread across numerous American cities. Penn's net worth at that time was approximately $77 million.

This, then, is Sean Penn: a longtime, dependable ally of America's enemies and detractors, foreign and domestic.