It’s Torquemada Time In The Heartland
In the late 15th century, the government of Spain, in defiance of the pope’s call for due process, decided it was time to root out the heretics and subversives in its midst.
And so they contracted with one Tomás de Torquemada, appointed him Grand Inquisitor, and let him loose.
Here in the heartland, the nomination of Barack Obama for president, and his subsequent election, have empowered the heretic hunters in our midst, one veteran grand inquisitor in particular.
In the past few weeks, I have documented how an informal cabal that included the local media, Democratic office holders, liberal clergy, and self-described “watchdog” groups conspired to defame, bankrupt, and even imprison individuals who flouted the liberal orthodoxy.
Now, entering stage left in this Kafkaesque drama is our own Torquemada, Leonard Zeskind (at left), the Midwest’s most celebrated “watchdog,” the winner of a $295,000 McArthur "genius grant," and now author of a new guilt-by-association magnus opus, “Blood and Politics.”
In a breathless 1800-word article this week, the Kansas City Star echoed the blurb writers’ description of the book as “brilliant,” “definitive,” “breathtaking” and “essential.”
Zeskind, the Star tells us, “connects dots.” And after 35 or so years of dot-connecting, “He has become known as one of the most effective and dogged researchers on . . fascist and neo-nationalist movements around the globe.”
Says Zeskind of his own role, “I’m the guy people go to for advice.”
Without a peep of protest from the Star, Zeskind unblushingly connects these same neo-Nazi dots to Pat Buchanan, the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative of the African-American Ward Connerly, and the imaginary professors of “scientific racism” on America’s campuses.
As Zeskind tells the story, once the Soviet Union fell, America’s “ mainstream conservatives” found a common enemy “in immigration and any vision of America that included multiracial democracy.”
Zeskind is half-right. Radical tactics changed after the fall of the Soviet Union, but they were not those of American conservatives. They were those of Zeskind and comrades.
About Zeskind’s background, the Star is a little fuzzy. We are told only that he grew up in a southern city that he refuses to name and that he came to Kansas City in the 1970s as a “community organizer.”
The Star and Zeskind have good cause to stay mum. The unrepentant Zeskind is a man with a past.
The information that follows comes from Laird Wilcox, a lifetime ACLU member and civil rights activist who judiciously monitors extremes both left and right.
For anyone wanting to know more, the Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements is housed in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library at Kansas University.
According to Wilcox, Zeskind first surfaced in 1973 as the Kansas City front man for The Sojourner Truth Organization (STO). STO’s primary role, according to its own literature, was to motivate the working classes "to make a revolution."
This was more than just bong-inspired bravado. The STO unabashedly quoted role model, Josef Stalin, on the need for "iron discipline." They played for keeps.
In 1978, Zeskind penned an article for the journal, Urgent Tasks, titled "Workplace Struggles in Kansas City." In the article, Zeskind talks about the value of a grass roots "school of communism," one conceived "to destroy the marketplace, not sell at it."
The journal, by the way, took its title from a quote by Lenin. Not John. Vladimir Ilyich.
In 1981, the liberal editor of a local alternative publication described Zeskind as elusive, paranoid, "near hysterical." As to Zeskind’s beloved STO, said the editor, "They surface on occasion to distract and intimidate non-violent groups working for social change."
A favored KGB prank back in the day was to send racist threats to high profile groups and attribute those threats to the Jewish Defense League, the John Birch Society or other right wing organizations.
As British author Mark Shields notes in his study of the Mitrohkin files, the Soviets hoped "to weaken the internal cohesion of the United States and undermine its international reputation by inciting race hatred."
Back home, our local Marxists were playing much the same game. In 1979 the game got out of hand when the Communist Worker’s Party (CWP) provoked a lethal shoot-out with the increasingly absurd Ku Klux Klan.
In its aftermath many of these groups, and others more innocuous, united to form the National Anti-Klan Network (NAKN). In 1982 the radical publication Workers Vanguard described the NAKN as a loose coalition of Southern ministers and "the remnants of the pro-Peking Stalinists."
In 1986, the NAKN changed its name to the Center for Democratic Renewal (CDR), likely in an attempt to blur its radical roots. At that time, Leonard Zeskind was listed as its "director of research." The Star article confirms the affiliation but skips over CDR’s squalid history.
Despite his affection for totalitarian governments, Zeskind was now presenting himself to the Jewish community in particular as a fearless champion of civil rights.
Apparently, Zeskind came to the task well armed. According to a 1991 issue of Details magazine, "Lenny" was the proud owner of a shotgun and a Mini .14, "the far right’s weapon of choice," and was hoping for a 9mm handgun for his next birthday.
In 1989, after tales of his past had begun to circulate, Zeskind went public with his own history. Sort of. He told the London-based Jewish Chronicle that "I was never the kind of Marxist-Leninist that they think of."
Curiously, the CDR and other Marxist-Leninist groups were busily redefining themselves much as Zeskind was. "Rather than present socialism or Marxism-Leninism as their goal," Wilcox writes, "they piggy-back it onto anti-racism which is far more popular."
The watchdogs have dealt with the objective decline of racism, Wilcox notes, "by expanding the definition of racism to meet their needs, to include more and more behaviors, and to require more and more invasive remedies."
One methodology of choice is that old Stalinist standby, "ritual defamation." Says Wilcox bluntly, "The primary purpose of Watchdog organizations seems to be to call people names in the hope of defaming, discrediting, stigmatizing or neutralizing them."
As to Zeskind, he has imagined an impending "white Christian nation" that somehow manages to accommodate both anti-statist Christians and pagan Nazi socialists.
He and his acolytes have made this oxymoron work in the mind of the media at least by routinely linking what he calls "the God, guts and guns crowd" with racists and fascists.
Janeane Garofalo caught the Zeskind spirit when she described Tea Party participants as " a bunch of teabagging rednecks,” adding, " This is about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up."
Torquemada could not have said it better himself.
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