Sept. 12, 2003
David Horowitz, Editor in Chief, FrontPage Magazine
Dear Mr. Horowitz,
Thank you for your response to our recent article, “Into the Mainstream,” which mentioned the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. Although we may disagree on many issues, the Southern Poverty Law Center always is interested in getting the facts right. We therefore forwarded your letter to the article’s author, Chip Berlet, for his comments. His response is attached. After reviewing both documents, we believe Mr. Berlet’s article is backed up by the evidence, and we stand by the article as it was published.
Editor, Intelligence Report, Southern Poverty Law Center
Response to David Horowitz's Complaint
September 12, 2003
From: Chip Berlet
To: Editors, Intelligence Report
Re: David Horowitz's Complaint
David Horowitz has written “An Open Letter To Morris Dees” of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), complaining about a short description of Horowitz’s Center for the Study of Popular Culture that I wrote for the SPLC's Summer 2003 Intelligence Report. This “open letter,” dated September 2, 2003, was posted on the website of FrontPage.com, a project of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture.
Horowitz alleges the description I wrote is “tendentious” and “filled with transparent misrepresentations and smears,” and describing me, for good measure, as “a leftwing conspiracy theorist.” In his letter, Horowitz charges that his statements, drawn from his article and ad opposing reparations for slavery, have been “mangled” by me in a bid to make him look like something he says he is not.
I disagree. Since I take complaints about my work seriously, I have prepared this detailed response to rebut Horowitz's claims and defend my work.
I used the Horowitz quotes in my article to illustrate the insensitivity of Horowitz and the Center for the Study of Popular Culture concerning discussions about race and racism. Horowitz, in his letter of complaint, implies these quotes represent the “entire evidence for Berlet’s indictment of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture.” This is false. In the course of my research, I consulted numerous articles and other material by Mr. Horowitz, both online and in print. I reviewed material posted on the Center for the Study of Popular Culture (CSPC) and FrontPage.com websites. I read numerous articles and other material published in the CSPC newspaper, Heterodoxy, over ten years — back to volume 1, number 1.
The Horowitz quotes cited in the Intelligence Digest article originally appeared in Horowitz’s critiques of the demand for reparations for African Americans stemming from the institution of slavery in the United States. There is a particular focus on rebutting the defense of reparations articulated by Randall Robinson, author of The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks.
The Horowitz quotes cited in the Intelligence Report paragraph come from two specific sources:
Horowitz’s article titled “The Latest Civil Rights Disaster: Ten Reasons Why Reparations For Slavery Are A Bad Idea For Black People — And Racist Too,” dated May 30, 2000, and posted on the Salon.com website as of September 10, 2003.
Horowitz’s ad titled “Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Blacks is a Bad Idea for Blacks - and Racist Too,” dated, January 3, 2001, and posted on the FrontPage.com website of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture as of September 10, 2003.
On neither page can I find mention of a correction or clarification of the text posted. It is fair to expect Horowitz to take responsibility for his language as posted, or offer an explanation as to why his previous critics have misinterpreted his views, or that the statements no longer represent his views.
Horowitz has two complaints about the following sentence in my article:
Berlet — Intelligence Report:
“Although he makes much of his past working for civil rights for blacks and others, he more recently has blamed slavery on “black Africans … abetted by dark-skinned Arabs” - a selective rewriting of history.
Horowitz argues that I am implying he “once worked for civil rights and don’t any longer.” I was not trying to imply anything of the sort; it was a statement of fact concerning how often Horowitz points out his history of supporting civil rights as a way of fending of criticism. Horowitz has a right to assert that he is still concerned with civil rights.
Since he raises the issue in his complaint, let us set the stage for the larger discussion by reviewing some of what Horowitz has to say about civil rights. This will help place Horowitz in a larger context. Horowitz has repeatedly attacked what most people consider the main sector of the contemporary civil rights movement as engaging in the “shakedown” and “extortion” of white people over the issue of racism — claiming, “no intelligent person really believes the charge of racism anymore.” Horowitz uses the following argument to criticize the efforts of the NAACP and others who raise the issue of white racism:
Horowitz: “Racial Shakedowns:”
From the perspective of the civil-rights movement they claim as their legacy, they are all laughable charades; and their only shared purpose is to keep alive the idea that whites are racists and are responsible for the problems of African Americans. The reality is quite different. The civil-rights struggle was won 30 years ago. What passes for civil rights these days is a political shakedown and a racial hustle….
This is not about racism. It is about playing the race card….A new kind of extortion….
Whatever people say in public, no intelligent person really believes the charge of racism anymore. On the other hand, everyone is afraid to say so….
It is time to wake up, America. The civil-rights scam is becoming a cancer on our body politic. The only cure is to adopt a single standard for all Americans and—to use a phrase of the '60s—tell it like it is.
— David Horowitz, “Racial Shakedowns,” FrontPage, February 17, 2000.
Horowitz offers his definition of “civil rights” in relation to the issue of reparations:
Horowitz: “Black Racism:”
[Exposing examples of black racism]
…would threaten a national melodrama in which only blacks are victims, only blacks are persecuted and only whites are racists. Within the framework of this melodrama, the only acceptable meaning of civil rights is retribution for blacks — retribution for any and every crime, real or imagined, ever suffered by black people however remote in the past. "Reparations" is just the nom de jour of the new civil rights package.
— David Horowitz, “Black Racism: The Hate Crime That Dare Not Speak It's Name,” FrontPage, July 16, 2002.
In describing his book, Hating Whitey, Horowitz takes another swipe at civil rights:
Horowitz: “MLK is no doubt spinning in his grave:”
…is about the moral degeneration of the civil rights movement into a hustle designed to keep "racism" alive
— David Horowitz, “MLK is no doubt spinning in his grave,” Jewish World Review, Nov. 23, 1999.
So, according to Horowitz, “the only acceptable meaning of civil rights is retribution for blacks.” Yet in his complaint, Horowitz claims to have a public record regarding his commitment to civil rights. Indeed, he has.
Horowitz has a second complaint about my original sentence published in Intelligence Report. Horowitz asserts he has: “never in my life blamed slavery on black Africans … abetted by dark-skinned Arabs.” He describes my quoting him to that effect as a “lie.” The Horowitz text in the Salon article, however, clearly makes this claim using exactly these words as quoted:
Horowitz — Salon:
“Slavery itself is the most obvious example. It was not whites but black Africans who first enslaved their brothers and sisters. They were abetted by dark-skinned Arabs (since Robinson and his allies force us into this unpleasant mode of racial discourse) who organized the slave trade.”
By using the phrase “a selective rewriting of history,” I tried to indicate that Horowitz is attempting to shift the primary blame for slavery in the United States away from white slave owners and onto “black Africans … abetted by dark-skinned Arabs.” Horowitz tries to shift the blame by stating, “It was not whites but black Africans who first enslaved their brothers and sisters;” so blacks are first to blame, and not whites. Horowitz further tries to shift the blame by stating, “dark-skinned Arabs…organized the slave trade,” rather than whites.
There are two parts to Horowitz's second complaint. Here is the text to which he objects:
“He [Horowitz] also claims that “there never was an anti-slavery movement until white Christians - Englishmen and Americans - created one.” That, of course, is false. Critics note that Horowitz is ignoring everything from the slave revolt led by Spartacus against the Romans and Moses' rebellion against the Pharaoh to the role of American blacks in the abolition movement.”
Let us examine each part of Horowitz's complaint over this text separately.
“He [Horowitz] also claims that “there never was an anti-slavery movement until white Christians - Englishmen and Americans - created one.” That, of course, is false.
Let us first look at what Horowitz actually wrote in the two different versions of his polemic:
Horowitz — Salon:
“What about the debt blacks owe to America — to white Americans — for liberating them from slavery? This may not seem like a serious question to some, but that only reveals their ignorance of the history of slavery and its fate. Slavery existed for thousands of years before the Atlantic slave trade was born, in virtually all societies. But in the 1,000 years of its existence, there never was an anti-slavery movement until white Englishmen and Americans created one.”
Horowitz — FrontPage:
“Slavery existed for thousands of years before the Atlantic slave trade was born, and in all societies. But in the thousand years of its existence, there never was an anti-slavery movement until white Christians - Englishmen and Americans — created one.”
In his “Open Letter To Morris Dees,” Horowitz complains that he has clarified these previous statements in his book, Uncivil Wars: The Controversy About Slavery, Encounter 2001.
For thousands of years, until the end of the Eighteenth Century, slavery had been considered a normal institution of human societies. In all that time, no group had arisen to challenge its legitimacy. Of course, there were many slave revolts from the times of Moses and Spartacus, in which those who had been enslaved sought to gain their freedom. But that was not the point. The freedom they had sought was their own. They did not revolt against the institution of slavery as such. What had happened in the English-speaking countries at the dawn of the American Republican was entirely unique. Before then, no one had thought to form a movement dedicated to the belief that the institution of slavery was itself immoral. What was important in this historical fact was that it showed that white Europeans who were the target of the reparations indictment had played a pivotal role in the emancipation from slavery.”
This clarification by Horowitz is in error as to both the nationality and century of the first broad-based antislavery movement generally recognized by historians. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (“Slavery: Historical survey: The international slave trade”), the “founder of antislavery thought” – the first prominent abolitionist — was neither English nor American, but a Frenchman named Jean Bodin (1530-96). Quakers began the English-led abolition movement in 1783. In addition, none of us, Horowitz included, knows if an African-based antislavery movement arose in opposition to the transatlantic slave trade. So I quoted Horowitz accurately, and the Horowitz quotes are factually false.
“Critics note that Horowitz is ignoring everything from the slave revolt led by Spartacus against the Romans and Moses' rebellion against the Pharaoh to the role of American blacks in the abolition movement.”
In the Horowitz text on the history of antislavery cited above, Horowitz erases the role of blacks, such as Frederic Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth, in helping to create the abolition movement prior to and during the Civil War. Instead, he paints abolition as an unadulterated gift of the white man to the black slaves. Horowitz has no evidence to support his supposition of what motivated earlier anti-slavery activists such as Moses and Spartacus. Horowitz, under attack on several fronts for his claims, came up with a number of ex post facto “clarifications,” such as the text from Uncivil Wars cited above. But his article and advertisement text said what it said, and this earlier text remains posted without clarification or correction on his FrontPage.com website and on the Salon website. What is not in dispute is that Horowitz has been criticized for not mentioning Spartacus and Moses, and for diminishing the role of blacks in abolition. These criticisms are easily found.
See for example: “Ten Reasons: A Response to David Horowitz” by Robert Chrisman and Ernest Allen, Jr.
Another critique of the Horowitz reparations ad by Tom Gorman makes similar comments.
Adolph L. Reed, Jr. has written, “Horowitz resorts to a willful distortion of the body of responsible scholarship (like that of David Brion Davis) on the history of slave abolition.” Adolph L. Reed, “Horowitz's Provocation,” Class Notes column, The Progressive.
For the record, prior to the Civil War Frederick Douglass, the black abolitionist, spoke out against all forms of slavery throughout history, calling emancipation in the West Indies “the triumph of a great moral principle…of freedom over slavery” and the acknowledgement “of the sacredness of humanity….” Douglass goes on to call slavery, “foul, shocking, and dreadful,” and that “[h]uman nature shudders, and turns pale at its presence, and flies from it as from a den of lions, a nest of scorpions, or an army of rattlesnakes. The very soul sickens, and the mind revolts at the thought of slavery…”
This same speech contains the lines for which Douglass is perhaps best known:
If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation…want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters….
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
— Frederick Douglass, 1857 "The Significance of Emancipation in the West Indies." Speech, Canandaigua, New York, August 3, 1857; collected in pamphlet by author. In The Frederick Douglass Papers. Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. Volume 3: 1855-63. Edited by John W. Blassingame. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.
Horowitz describes as “a calculated and carefully constructed lie” the following statement written by me:
“He [Horowitz] has attacked minority “demands for special treatment” as “only necessary because some blacks can't seem to locate the ladder of opportunity within reach of others,” rejecting the idea that they could be the victims of lingering racism.”
Horowitz argues that the quotes have “absolutely nothing to do with whether there is lingering racism or not. It doesn’t even have to do with my own opinions, but with the opinions of these other minority groups.” I disagree. A careful reading of both the Salon article and the FrontPage ad text demonstrates that my wording is accurate and fair. Here are the relevant sections:
Horowitz — Salon:
“The renewed sense of grievance — which is what the claim for reparations will inevitably create — is neither a constructive nor a helpful message for black leaders to be sending to their communities. Virtually every group that has sought refuge in America has grievances to remember. For millions of recent immigrants the suffering is only years behind them, and can be as serious as ethnic cleansing or genocide.
How are these people going to receive the payment claims from African-Americans whose comparable suffering lies in the distant past? Won't they see this demand as just another claim for special treatment, for a rather extravagant new handout that is only necessary because some blacks can't seem to locate the ladder of opportunity within reach of others, many of whom are even less privileged than they are? Why can a penniless Mexican, who is here illegally and unable even to speak English, find work in America's inner cities while blacks cannot? Can 19th century slavery or even the segregation of 50 years ago really explain this?
To focus the social passions of African-Americans on what some Americans did to their ancestors 50 or 150 years ago is to burden this community with a crippling sense of victimhood. It is also to create a new source of conflict with other communities.
A young black intellectual wrote the following comments about reparations: "I think the reparations issue will be healthy. It will show all Americans (white, Hispanic, Asian) how much blacks contributed to helping build this country." Actually, as Robinson's book makes clear, what it will accomplish is just the opposite. It will provide black leaders with a platform from which to complain about all the negative aspects of black life — to emphasize inner-city pathologies and failures, and to blame whites, Hispanics and Asians for causing them.
How is this going to impress other communities? It's really just a prescription for sowing more racial resentment and creating even greater antagonism.”
“The renewed sense of grievance — which is what the claim for reparations will inevitably create — is neither a constructive nor a helpful message for black leaders to be sending to their communities and to others. To focus the social passions of African-Americans on what some Americans may have done to their ancestors fifty or a hundred and fifty years ago is to burden them with a crippling sense of victim-hood. How are the millions of refugees from tyranny and genocide who are now living in America going to receive these claims, moreover, except as demands for special treatment, an extravagant new handout that is only necessary because some blacks can't seem to locate the ladder of opportunity within reach of others — many less privileged than themselves?”
Let us take the first part of my sentence first. In both examples, the statement in dispute is a rhetorical question used by Horowitz as a polemic device. The rhetorical question in this context serves as a projection of the author’s views onto a fictional group of immigrants and refugees. I think it is perfectly clear to any normal reader that the writer of this sentence is not merely speculating about what the “millions of refugees” (presumably identical to members of “other minority groups”) would think. Horowitz is endorsing that view as the response of any rational person to blacks’ so-called “demands for special treatment.”
In another section of the above text, Horowitz repeats this procedure, asking rhetorically, “Why can a penniless Mexican, who is here illegally and unable even to speak English, find work in America's inner cities while blacks cannot? Can 19th century slavery or even the segregation of 50 years ago really explain this?” Again, a rhetorical question used to project Horowitz's own ideas. I think it is clear that Horowitz is implying that Mexicans can find the ladder of opportunity while blacks cannot. In another sentence cited below, Horowitz again makes the same point (in another rhetorical question), writing that "economic adversity" faced by some blacks is the "result of failures of individual character rather than the lingering after-effects of racial discrimination" and the slave system.
Horowitz has made almost identical claims in other articles. For example, in one article responding to criticisms of his ad by Tom Gorman, Horowitz explicitly claimed that some American blacks seem unable to find economic success due to failed family structures caused largely by “welfare policies, and liberal drug policies, rather than “racism or discrimination:”
Horowitz: “The Ten Reasons Revisited”
…no one has established the connection between present black inequalities and slavery or even segregation and discrimination….
Randall Robinson attributes all persisting inequalities to "white racism." This is false and offensive. The relative prosperity of West Indian blacks who are indeed black and whose ancestors were also slaves refutes the Robinson-Gorman argument. If racism or discrimination is the problem, why do West Indian born and descended blacks do so well? If slavery is the problem, why do they have strong family structures (a key to economic success) while American-born and descended blacks don’t? Gorman’s answer is that slavery broke up the black family in America? And not in Jamaica? The truth is that African American families were intact well into the 1960s when 75% of black children were born into two parent families. In America’s inner cities today – where the black poor are concentrated – 80% of black children are born out of wedlock. This has nothing or very little to do with slavery, segregation and discrimination, but a lot to do with welfare policies, and liberal drug policies that Gorman and his friends supported….
Obviously the presence of a majority black middle class shows that African Americans don’t have to be victims in America. They can be winners as well. But only if they stop listening to people like Randall Robinson.
— David Horowitz, “Horowitz's Notepad: The Ten Reasons Revisited", FrontPage, April 3, 2001.
I think it is fair to suggest that Horowitz has repeatedly attacked minority “demands for special treatment” as “only necessary” because some American blacks “can't seem to locate the ladder of opportunity within reach of others.”
Now let us take the second part of my original sentence, where I say Horowitz rejects “the idea that [blacks] could be the victims of lingering racism.” In addition to the overall body of Horowitz’s work, there are specific words and arguments within the two Horowitz pieces discussed here that support my conclusion:
The Historical Precedents Used To Justify The Reparations Claim Do Not Apply, And The Claim Itself Is Based On Race Not Injury
The Historical Precedents Used To Justify The Reparations Claim Do Not Apply, And The Claim Itself Is Based On Race Not Injury
The historical precedents generally invoked to justify the reparations claim are payments to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, Japanese-Americans and African- American victims of racial experiments in Tuskegee, or racial outrages in Rosewood and Oklahoma City. But in each case, the recipients of reparations were the direct victims of the injustice or their immediate families. This would be the only case of reparations to people who were not immediately affected and whose sole qualification to receive reparations would be racial.
Horowitz in the subheading is claiming reparations for blacks are wrong because there is no “injury” – that is, there is no lingering effect of racism that could be interpreted as an injury to blacks in the United States. In the text that follows the subheading, Horowitz says that those who would receive reparations for slavery would not be the “direct victims of the injustice or their immediate families.” This clearly dismisses the effects of lingering racism stemming from the institution of slavery.
Horowitz then adds that blacks’ “sole qualification to receive reparations would be racial.” In other words, their skin color alone would make them eligible for reparations – not any possible injury from the lingering effects of racism.
Horowitz explicitly dismisses of the effects of lingering racism in another section of the ad:
The Reparations Argument Is Based On The Unfounded Claim That All African-American Descendants of Slaves Suffer From The Economic Consequences Of Slavery And Discrimination
No evidence-based attempt has been made to prove that living individuals have been adversely affected by a slave system that was ended over 150 years ago. But there is plenty of evidence the hardships that occurred were hardships that individuals could and did overcome. The black middle-class in America is a prosperous community that is now larger in absolute terms than the black underclass. Does its existence not suggest that economic adversity is the result of failures of individual character rather than the lingering after-effects of racial discrimination and a slave system that ceased to exist well over a century ago?
There are a number of studies that present evidence that black people living today “have been adversely affected by a slave system that was ended over 150 years ago.” Horowitz has every right to disagree with those studies, but to claim they do not exist is false.
Here again, Horowitz is dismissing the lingering effects of slavery and ongoing racism by claiming that contemporary claims are based on race alone and not actual injury suffered by blacks in the contemporary Unites States. Horowitz suggests blacks are not “direct victims of the injustice” of ongoing racism in our country; and suggests that for some blacks, “economic adversity is the result of failures of individual character rather than the lingering after-effects of racial discrimination and a slave system that ceased to exist well over a century ago.”
The Center for the Study of Popular Culture has produced a vast amount of text marked by nasty polemic and exceptional insensitivity around issues of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual identity. Writers for the CSPC tend to use language that exacerbates societal tensions rather than seeking some form of constructive critical discourse. They are mainstreaming bigotry—and this is precisely the topic of my article in Intelligence Report.In an effort to be fair, I did not base my criticism of Horowitz and the CSPC on the position they take on the contested issues of reparations or affirmative action. I based my criticism on their repeated use of inflammatory, mean-spirited, and divisive language that dismisses the idea that there are serious unresolved issues concerning racism and white supremacy in the United States.