You can tell a lot about people by looking at their heroes.
When the Women’s March honored the Stalinist cheerleader Angela Davis in 2017, there was almost no pushback from Jewish or liberal groups. While one can forgive members of the Resistance, concerned with the impending Trumpian dystopia, for not yet comprehending the bigoted and extremist positions of those leading the Women’s March, those who participate in the march going forward have no excuses, since it’s now well documented that Jew-haters, theocrats, and other harebrained fanatics litter that movement. Davis’s continued presence is merely another reminder that the progressive left will tolerate the most odious characters as long as they seek “justice” for a favored cause — in this case Palestinians.
In this regard, Davis isn’t a useful idiot. Just as Davis wasn’t merely a communist sympathizer but a champion of the most reprehensible Soviet regimes, she’s not merely a supporter of boycott, divestment, sanction’s Jewish boycotts but a champion of men like Marwan Barghouti, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades leader who coordinated suicide bombings targeting Jewish civilians.
Yet, somehow, Davis claimed to be “stunned” when, after objections from Holocaust remembrance organizations and other Jewish groups, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute recently rescinded their award that was meant to honor her. The incident spurred the usual suspects to say the usual things. Though most of defenses were predictably vacuous, the habit of ignoring her biography is also journalistic malpractice.
There could be an entire book written detailing Davis’s loathsome views and actions (Cathy Young has a good article here.) Still, it’s quite striking to see folks like TED talker Sally Kohn taking to Twitter to let her followers know that she stands with Davis because of her fight against the “prison industrial complex.” In the real world, Davis was an enthusiast supporter of the largest and most lethal prison system the world has ever known.
It was “human rights activist Angela Davis,” as NPR astonishingly described the woman in an article this week, who bought the shotgun that was used in a 1970 Marin County court room kidnapping and shootout that ended up killing a superior court judge and three others. The subsequent manhunt and trial of Davis, a proud lifelong communist, would be a very big deal in Soviet nations.
In 1971, in fact, the CIA noted that Davis’s case had become “a Soviet manipulated international anti-US campaign reminiscent of the orchestrated by Communist propaganda efforts made on behalf of atomic spies, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.” The CIA estimated that at least 5 percent of the entire Soviet Russian propaganda budget had been aimed at propping up Davis. To put that in context, that’s more than was being spent on propaganda directly about the Vietnam War. All schoolchildren in East Germany were ordered to collect flowers and stamps for Davis.
Davis soon traveled to many of these nations to stand with leaders who, collectively, had jailed hundreds of thousands of political dissidents. She visited East Germany, and effusively praised Erich Honecker while the Stasi were torturing political prisoners and his border police were summarily executing those who tried to escape.
Honaker, one of architects of “anti-fascist protection barrier” known as the Berlin Wall, would one day be served a 783-page indictment by the German government that accused him of being personally responsible for the death of 68 people as they attempted to flee East Germany. In 2015, it was estimated that more than 1,000 deaths could be attributed to East German authorities — and that says nothing about the tyranny of the regime in other matters. Davis not only ignored these crimes, she seemed to approve of them, never once expressing any regret.
When human rights activist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who knew a thing or two about the “prison industrial complex,” gave his Voice of Freedom speech in 1975, he relayed a story about manufactured heroism and hypocrisy that surrounded Davis.
There’s a certain woman here named Angela Davis. I don’t know if you are familiar with her in this country, but in our country, literally for one whole year, we heard of nothing at all except about Angela Davis. There was only Angela Davis in the whole world and she was suffering. We had our ears stuffed with Angela Davis. Little children in school were told to sign petitions in defense of Angela Davis. Little boys and girls, 8 and 9 years old in schools, were asked to do this. Well, they set her free. Although she didn’t have a rough time in this country, she came to recuperate in Soviet resorts. Some Soviet dissidents — but more important, a group of Czech dissidents— addressed an appeal to her: ”Comrade Davis, you were in prison. You know how unpleasant it is to sit in prison, especially when you consider yourself innocent. You now have such authority. Could you help our Czech prisoners? Could you stand up for those persons in Czechoslovakia who are being persecuted by the state?” Angela Davis answered: ‘They deserve what they get. Let them remain in prison.’ That is the face of communism.
Solzhenitsyn was referring to Jiri Pelikan, one of the supporters of the Prague Spring, who had asked Davis, as she was vacationing in Russian resorts and collecting honorary degrees, if she would advocate for political prisoners. She would not.
Alan Dershowitz, in his 1992 “Chutzpah” book, relays a similar incident in which Davis, a woman who went on to be a professor in the “History of Consciousness” at the University of California, not only refused to stand up for prisoners of conscience in the Soviet Union but argued that their imprisonment was justified.
I also worked as an unpaid consultant on an aspect of the Angela Davis case in California. Davis, who was one of the leaders of the American Communist party, was charged with murder in connection with a 1970 shoot-out at a Marin County courthouse. She claimed that as a black, a woman, and a Communist, she could not receive a fair trial in any American court. She was acquitted, so maybe she was right! After her acquittal, she announced that she would be devoting the remainder of her life to defending political prisoners like herself. A short time later, I read that she was going to Moscow to receive some human rights prize from the Soviet Union. I called her office and gave them a list of Jewish prisoners of conscience in the Soviet Union – Jews who had been imprisoned because they wanted to emigrate to Israel or to learn about their heritage. I asked if she would be willing to speak up on behalf of these political prisoners. Several days later, I received a call back from Ms. Davis’s secretary informing me that Davis had looking into the people on my list and none of them were political prisoners ‘They are all Zionist fascists and opponents of Socialism.’ Davis would urge that they be kept in prison where they belonged.
In 1979, Davis went back to Moscow and was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize, where she praised “the glorious name” of mass murderer Vladimir Lenin and the “great October Revolution,” as the KGB was in the midst of one of its last large-scale political crackdowns. Watching those who seem to believe Russian-purchased Facebook ads are a threat to the republic shower Davis with hosannas is somewhat surreal. Then again, so many progressive activists are starting to sound just like her.
Let’s not forget, Davis was also a fan of Jim Jones. She had personally assured the people of Jonestown that they would be safe, only two months before their massacre. This is the person whom Elle magazine and feminists believe is worth celebrating. In a just world, Davis wouldn’t be bestowed a civil rights award or glowing coverage, but disgrace.