Penn State Professor Sam Richards has never met an anti-American conspiracy theory he didn’t like. He makes sure his students don't dislike them either.
Welcome to Richards’ Sociology class 119. If you’re looking for a persistent strain of Marxist ideology -- and crude caricatures of American society and foreign policy -- you’ve come to the right place.
A website for Richards’ class features a cartoon starring Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. “Fred” asks, “What should we do tonight, Karl-the-Red?” “Karl” replies, “Let’s go to that new Wal-Mart, Fred!”
Wal-Mart, which has become the world's largest retailer by cutting costs for working people has, of course, has become one of the Left’s symbols of “what’s wrong” with capitalism.
Three clicks into the source material for Sociology 119, we find Che Guevara’s icon prominently placed in the middle of Richards’ class lecture notes. It is fortified with the terrorist’s words (in both English and Spanish): “Let me say, at the risk of seeming ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” It is ridiculous and belongs in the pop-psych category of protesting too much. True revolutionaries like Guevara, kill as a way of life.
In Richards’ lectures, which include topics such as “Racial Inequality,” “Genocide and the Holocaust,” “International Racism and Foreign Policy,” and “Global Inequality,” students learn that the “real” story of the United States is not just the “official” one of “bravery and hardship, of sharing and community.” It is also the story of “death and carnage, or murder and theft.”
Richard’s Marxist prejudices shine forth in his examination of “racial inequality.” Social classes are replaced by crudely drawn racial groups. A diagram is used to explain to students that, “some groups dominate others.” Building on this trite and discredited Marxist theme, Richards instructs his students that a mendacious ruling class controls America's masses. According to Richards, “dominating groups control the means of ideological persuasion (e.g. mass media, cultural mores, ethical principles)” and “[if] the dominant group/class can convince the masses to believe in some truth that benefits that dominant group, then the masses are less likely to object to the rule of that group.” Sounds like a fourth grade text at Moscow University during the Stalin era.
To demonstrate these dynamics, Richards offers “U.S. foreign policy” as his first example. His class lecture notes inform students, “If the U.S. populace knew what was undertaken in our name in other parts of the world we might not accept much of what the government does that benefits all of us, but especially a relatively small Military-Industrial Complex.” After introducing this conspiratorial “Military-Industrial Complex,” Richards moves on to his second example, “The Drug War.” Students learn that, “If whites can be convinced that blacks and Latinos are THE drug problem, then they can turn their backs on obvious racism and unequal treatment.”
Citing the modern day master of vulgar Marxism, the instructor of Sociology 119 explains how the evil capitalist rulers distract the masses the better to exploit them: “The U.S. seems to be less concerned about human rights throughout the world than we’re concerned with making certain that our corporations can operate freely and without restraint. And we all benefit. Finally, according to Chomsky, the manipulation of our political and economic system is carried out right under our noses. Elites are very open about this. They discuss it openly and the American people comply willingly. Human rights groups say that the problem with the U.S. is that we are so implicated in so many states with abysmal human rights records that we indirectly tell the world that such matters are not critically important. The U.S. does X or Y and so we can too. Part of this problem is that global capitalism is rooted on exploitation especially of Third World workers and children.”
Frontpage columnist Jacob Laksin assisted in researching this article by interviewing Richards. He asked the professor about the evident lack of ideological balance in his lectures on U.S. foreign policy; Richards acknowledged that he makes no attempt to provide one. “My take on matters related to foreign policy," he explained, "was always to show a different side than the side that the American people are taught to believe since they start breathing.”
Richards’ background helps illuminate why he favors more radical interpretations of U.S. foreign policy. He received his doctorate in political sociology from Rutgers University in 1985, after which he landed a position at Penn State, where he began teaching sociology. According to a 1993 account in the Penn State campus newspaper, The Collegian, Richards spent a considerable amount of time studying “liberation theology” -- pseudo-religious speak for Christian Marxism -- “and traveling throughout the third world.” “Liberation theology” was the topic of both Richards’ Master’s thesis and his doctoral dissertation. According to The Collegian, Richards was most “concerned with the issue of freedom -- freedom for himself and for others from political and social constraints.” The newspaper added, “[he] worries about the future, because he believes the world is on an unstoppable path toward totalitarianism.” These beliefs, as it turned out, formed the foundation for Richards’ teaching at PSU.
For someone supposedly concerned with oppression and injustice, Richards shows little interest in the fate of the Iranian peoples under their vicious Islamist regime. None of his course material touches on the Mullahs’ atrocious human rights record. Instead, Richards argues that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power was a “back lash [sic] against Western interference and the brutal and corrupt policies of the Shah.”
Richards also spends no time on the despotisms of the Castro regime or the former Sandinista dictatorship in Nicaragua. Instead, focuses on countries like El Salvador, where he blames the civil war and death squad violence in that country in the 1970’s and 1980’s as being America’s fault because “during this time the U.S. gave the govt. of El Salvador over $2 billion in military aid. He also notes that the U.S. actions in Nicaragua were condemned by the U.N. as “terrorist,” but that the U.S. vetoed the U.N. condemnation with the sole support of Israel. He offers no facts regarding the Sandinista regime’s involvement in spreading violence and Marxist revolution throughout the region.
The manner in which Richards conducts discussion of the subjects he teaches is also indicative of his agenda. After labeling U.S. actions in Nicaragua as “terrorist,” he asks, “What does this example tell us about how we approach terrorism?”
The message comes through loud and clear: the U.S. is the real international terrorist.
According to Richards, the entire American saga is one marked by exploitation and human rights violations. Conspicuously lacking from his class lectures and teachings is any context (i.e. the existence of the Cold War), details (i.e. Soviet aggression) or any other data that might undermine the anti-American agenda.
In his lecture on “Genocide and Holocaust,” -- here the direct influence of Chomsky and Chomsky's disciple Ward Churchill is inescapable -- Richards ignores the vast majority of communist genocides and instead offers his students several alleged examples of U.S. malignity. From the eight examples cited by Richards, his students learn that: “the killing of the ‘native’ peoples in the Americas was genocide;” that the U.S. military was directly or indirectly responsible for killing more than 1,000,000 Vietnamese during the Vietnam War; and that the killing of the East Timorese people by the country of Indonesia from 1975 to the present has occurred with “direct assistance from the U.S. taxpayers.”
Among Richards’ in-class teaching materials are four pictures of President Bush juxtaposed with pictures of monkeys under the heading, “some evolutionary mysteries are not quite so clear,” a mock advertisement titled, “The Bush Campaign’s TV Commercial if he was running against Jesus,” and a list of recommended leftwing books on the CIA and drugs. He has also dedicated a web page to the war in Iraq that includes links to radical conspiracy theories, articles and information on “racist police practices” and a cartoon of two newscasters for “Action McNews,” which mocks American culture and ridicules the idea that Islamist terrorists hate America because of its freedom.
Richards’ in-class teachings are reinforced with “out of class” assignments that include a healthy dose of leftist and communist propaganda films, such as “The Oil Factor,” from which students learn that the “war in Afghanistan has turned into a bloody quagmire” and that the War on Terror is really all about controlling Iraqi oil reserves and access to Central Asian oil reserves through Afghanistan. A similar theme is sounded by “Weapons of Mass Deception,” which informs students that the Bush administration and the mass media, either through complacency or intentional distortion, have conspired to dupe them into the Iraqi War. “Occupation 101,” meanwhile, is a propaganda film about the horrors of Israeli “occupation” of Palestinian territories that features interviews with such leftist luminaries as Noam Chomsky and Ramsey Clark. Another film, “The End of Suburbia,” makes the case that the suburban lifestyle is threatened by the “World Oil Peak,”—a shortage in fossil fuel supplies which will bring about the end of the American dream.
For good measure, Richards also includes a hagiographic documentary called “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: Life and Times of Howard Zinn.” Zinn is a Chomsky clone who believes that U.S. genocides began with Columbus. The protagonist of another assigned film, “Land and Freedom,” is a young communist ideologue, Dave Carr, who falls in love with an anarchist and spends much of the film—against the backdrop of 1936 war-torn Spain—conversing about the fate of socialist ideology. Finally, given his debt to the MIT radical, it is only fair that Richard include a film featuring Chomsky called “War and Empire.”
The themes in Richards’ tests reflect his class preoccupations. On the review page for the first exam of Sociology 119, students are treated to a bizarre photograph of a child dressed in a headdress and holding a bow and arrow, with the caption, “You have to love ‘Americans.’ You go get them cowboys Billy!’”
Richards is not shy about inflicting his prejudices on his captive student audiences or providing them with an indoctrination rather than an education. In the lecture notes for the first class of the semester—ironically called, “Lecture notes from the class on critical thinking”—Richards informs his students that, “It is not possible to keep our ideologies out of the classroom or any other place where ideas are shared. SO I’M OPEN ABOUT BRINGING MY IDEOLOGY INTO THIS CLASSROOM BECAUSE I SEE THAT ALL EDUCATIONAL SYSTEMS ARE IDEOLOGICAL TO THE CORE.” [emphasis in the original] In a decent academic system outside the totalitarian world, Richards would be terminated for this credo alone.
In his interview with Jacob Laksin, Richards preposterously explained that he subscribes to the “Socratic method” of teaching. Richards said that he has “come to firmly believe that my only job is to confuse people by questioning everything and so that’s what I do.” What he confuses students about is what they know from their experience so that he can fill their minds with the propaganda he has prepared for them. The first part of his faculty email address at Penn State reads: “unlearn.”
Richards’ radicalism isn’t limited to his Sociology classes. He has also touted the importance of, and attended, Penn State’s third annual “Drag Ball,” the cross-dressing culmination of the university’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender “Pride Week.” He has demanded a fair trial for Mumia Abu Jamal, the convicted cop-killer and a long-time favorite cause of the American Left, and he has led a “Teach-In for Peace” to protest the war in Iraq. He participated in another teach-in concerning the “negatives of globalization and the WTO” and piloted a “Parade to the Polls” on Election Day 2004. Richards even compared the 1999 Columbine school slayings to U.S. foreign policy, telling his class, “These kids are dropping bombs on their enemies just like we're dropping bombs on our enemies.”
It was no surprise when students and faculty at Penn State ended up considering launching a web site to document complaints about leftist professors early last year. Richards acknowledged that he was aware of the ideological biases in the classroom, but that he was “unsure of their effects on students.” But after reviewing the list of course materials for Sociology 119, as well as Richards’ teachings, it is clear that Richards is all too aware of the “effect” his classes will have on students -- and it isn’t about opening up minds to different ways of thinking. It’s about closing minds to any other way of thinking than his own.