Hillary Hides Her Panther Fling
Hillary Rodham was a radical activist while a Yale Law School student supporting such Marxist groups as the Black Panthers, but the media gloss over her past.
By John Elvin
The Internet is such a jumble of truths, half-truths and lies that it is little wonder questions have arisen about the legitimacy of e-mail messages linking Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Black Panthers, a group of militant desperadoes who swaggered through the 1960s in leather jackets and Che Guevara berets, armed to the teeth and as willing to use arms against police officers they called pigs as against each other.
Scream, America, When Youve Had Enough, reads the headline of one version of the Hillary/Panther message, which has so saturated cyberspace that it earned a spot on the highly regarded Urban Legends Website. Frequent media references call the site the leading authority on the truth or falsehood of the many rumors, scare stories and other sensational tidbits posted and shared on the Internet by true believers, the curious, pranksters and those of more sinister motives.
Teasing the reader along through an artfully crafted obstacle course of suspense-building background detail, the Scream, America item ultimately reaches a jarring conclusion. It contends that the first lady, now a candidate for the U.S. Senate from New York, and Bill Lann Lee, now the Justice Departments deputy attorney general in charge of civil rights, as students at Yale University were leaders of violent protests in defense of the nine Black Panthers accused in the brutal torture and murder of Alex Rackley, a young member of their group suspected of being a police informant.
According to the experts at Urban Legends, the story is false. Theres no record of either of them [Rodham or Lee] organizing any of the campus protests. Mind you, they could well have taken part in the marches and chest-thumping; certainly thousands of others did, according to the debunkers.
When radicals threatened armed violence, torched campus buildings, shut down the university and agitated for the release of accused murderers, readers are told, Rodham and Lee were, if involved at all, unidentifiable flotsam swept along in the swelling sea of student protest. Rodhams only connection to the Panther case is that she helped organize a group of law students to monitor the case on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union. It was just sort of an after-school project, like raising a lamb for Future Farmers of America or something. The Scream, America item is dismissed as a political screed against the Clintons typified by wild exaggerations and outright lies.
As though to lay waste to any remaining doubts in the skeptical mind, the site goes on at length to vouch for the Panthers as a fairly inevitable, hardly blameworthy cultural phenomenon. Considered by some as scamming sociopaths, they actually were the vanguard of resistance by a downtrodden and marginalized group of people who had been enslaved, discriminated against and denied civil-rights protection for hundreds of years.
That declaration has been considered sufficient by mainstream media lights ranging from the Washington Post to National Public Radio.
Case closed? Hardly. Insight, barraged by inquiries from readers demanding the rest of the story, dug into the Scream, America allegations. Where did they start? Who was behind them? Was there any factual basis for the charges? Versions of the tale quickly were found in several newspaper and magazine columns, but without attribution. Certainly this story must have begun somewhere. And, at length, Insight found a source that appeared to stand the test of credibility. That source is David Horowitz, a former sixties radical who since has become a provocative conservative guru. Horowitz is a best-selling author, publisher of magazines, newsletters and Internet sites, captain of a think tank, conductor of famed cultural events and celebrity guest on talk shows. But throughout the sixties, Horowitz was a major player in radical causes as coeditor of the countercultural Ramparts magazine, worked closely with the Black Panthers and was connected to many other leading revolutionaries in seditious organizations such as the Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, and the Weather Underground.
Horowitz, it turns out, has stated in print and in interviews over and over again that Hillary Rodham and Lee organized demonstrations at Yale to protest the Panther trials. The Scream, America item appears to be a clever rehashing of his material. The fact is that the Panthers were torturers and murderers of black people, Horowitz has said. And Hillary Clinton and Bill Lann Lee organized those demonstrations to get them off.
One cant get much more explicit than that, but Horowitz expounded on the theme in an interview with Insight. It was a bunch of revolutionary law students who were trying to obstruct justice; thats what it was about. A guy was tortured and murdered; the government was trying people for the crime.
The Panther leaders who were on trial all thought it was okay to torture and murder somebody. Thats what Hillary Clinton was defending, people who thought it was okay to torture and murder somebody.
Hillary was a revolutionary? Horowitz says that the people she was with at the time were communists.
These people didnt want civil rights, they wanted a Soviet state. We all knew it. She knew it. This was the communist left, the New Left, the hate-America left.
Is that a fact? Well, according to Hillary Clinton biographer Joyce Milton, Hillary Rodham organized the monitoring of the Panther trial at the behest of one of her professors, Thomas Emerson, affectionately known as Tommie the Commie. At the trial she worked closely with Panther lawyer Charles Garry, identified under oath as a member of the Communist Party, or CPUSA, who in turn worked with Robert Treuhaft, longtime attorney for the CPUSA and a frequent defender of the Panthers in their ongoing violent confrontations with authorities.
Treuhaft and his wife, celebrity writer Jessica Mitford, were by Mitfords sworn account hard-line Stalinist communists. In their eyes, for example, the Hungarian freedom fighters who faced Soviet tanks armed only with rocks were fascist traitors. The House Committee on Un-American Activities listed Treuhaft as one of the most dangerously subversive lawyers in the country. Hillary biographer David Brock quotes a historians assessment of Treuhaft as a man who dedicated his entire legal career to advancing the agenda of the Soviet Communist Party and the KGB.
As an established radical student leader dating to her days at Wellesley College, with additional credentials and connections developed in the Panther episode and other protests at Yale, Hillary won an internship with Treuhaft in Berkeley, Calif., the nerve center of the revolutionary left, where Treuhaft was known fondly as The Red Lawyer. Hillary hasnt written or spoken publicly of her experiences while working with Treuhaft, but the years have demonstrated valuable connections made during that time. Treuhafts trusted associate in cases involving the Panthers at the time was Jack Palladino, who ran an investigative agency in partnership with his wife, former Students for a Democratic Society organizer Sandra Sutherland. Palladino, known as The Peoples Detective, surfaces again in the Clinton story when he was called upon to silence bimbo eruptions in the early days of presidential campaigning.
Insight reviewed biographies of Hillary Clinton by Milton, Brock and Roger Morris for this story and lengthy selections from such other biographies as Barbara Olsons Hell to Pay. Together, relying on primary and other firsthand sources, they unquestionably back Horowitzs contention that Hillary was a campus leader during the Panther protests. She was, by standards of those chaotic and violent times, a moderate voice compared with such fanatics as Yippie leader Jerry Rubin, who exhorted Yale students to kill your parents, but she played a prominent activist role. When the dust settled, she was coeditor of a commemorative issue of Yale Review celebrating the Panthers and laced with cartoons of police officers depicted as pigs, including one who was decapitated and dismembered.
And what of Lee, who went on to achieve prominence as legal director of the NAACP? Horowitz refers the researcher to a recent book, The Big Test, by Nicholas Lemann. It turns out that Lemann interviewed Lee on his recruitment as a member of the confrontational Asian-American Student Association at Yale. Initially resistant to the prospect of becoming a left-wing activist, Lee acquiesced when pressed to write a statement expressing solidarity with the Panthers who were on trial and subsequently became an active member of the group.
The Scream, America e-mail recounts the further adventures in academia and politics of some of the Panthers tried in the Rackley case who, the e-mail suggests, got off easy. It also suggests, in tones which border on hesitant, that the freedom of those Panthers was maybe in some part due to the efforts of Rodham and Lee. As Insights investigation indicates, that assessment is hardly as the Urban Legends site brands it an Internet smear. Can there be any doubt, based on the foregoing facts, that Rodham and Lee indeed were student leaders during the Panther protests at Yale? The correct answer is no.
And what of the questions this historical review raises regarding today, with Hillary running for the U.S. Senate? Horowitz refers to his essay, Hillary Clinton and the Third Way, posted on his Front Page magazine Website (www.frontpage.com). In it, he calls Hillary Americas foremost leftist and suggests that through the years she has moderated her radical views merely as a means to achieve cultural and political power. The issues be they civil rights, health care, child welfare, peace, feminism, social justice are but shades for an intoxicating vision of social redemption that has been Hillarys guiding light. Meaning what? The left is really a religion, says Horowitz, who has been there and done that.
Who Were the Black Panthers?
Tom Hayden, a founding leader of the revolutionary Students for a Democratic Society and now a prominent California legislator, played a key role in luring idealistic young whites into the violent political riots in Chicago in 1968, knowing full well that blood would be shed. This was accomplished so easily because Americas youth had been primed for revolutionary behavior, as Hayden explains in his book Trial.
Hayden credits the gun-toting, aggressively confrontational Black Panther Party, which had gradually inspired significant numbers of whites to the idea of armed struggle. Few whites had become John Browns, but the Panthers heroic image was accelerating white revolutionary consciousness as no American movement had done before.
Who were these heroes? The bulk of critics, whether they be on the right, left or survivors of the Panther group itself, agree that this militant organization was made up of as one writer close to the action put it an amalgam of street hustlers, ex-convicts and disenchanted student radicals. At their peak, the Panthers had around 5,000 committed members in 20 chapters around the country, plus legions of supporters, sympathizers and wanna-bes. They could mobilize mobs of 25,000 and more.
Panther ideology, according to former member Salim Muwakkil writing in the Chicago Tribune, was a combination of black separatism, Marxism and other ideological odds and ends. A keynote of Panther speeches was a call for killing white leaders, beginning with President Nixon on down the ranks to San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto. They were allied with communist movements around the world and were particularly close to Fidel Castro.
The militants were not joking in their advocacy of armed struggle, as they often proved. In one raid on a Panther arsenal, police seized more than 1,000 weapons ranging from machine guns to grenade launchers. No less violent toward their own than toward the oppressors, the Panthers disciplined those within the party using bullwhips and chains, if the targets were lucky, and executing others.
Such an execution brought Hillary Rodham and Bill Lann Lee to Panther defense. Alex Rackley, a member of the New Haven chapter who was thought to be an informer, was clubbed, burned with cigarettes, doused with boiling water and stabbed with an ice pick before being taken out and shot twice in the head by his comrades. The ensuing campus protests were not about guilt or innocence but to express concern that the Panthers, as prisoners of war, should not even be tried in the courts of the United States at this time, as Hayden put it.
The leader of the Panthers was Huey Newton, described by his close friend of that era, Ramparts magazine coeditor David Horowitz, as a convicted felon with a history of violent crimes [who] had built a paramilitary organization dedicated to opposing police. Newton was a master of the game who charmed wealthy and influential liberal and leftist whites. He was a centerpiece guest at Hollywood parties attended by Candice Bergen, Jack Nicholson, Jane Fonda and others, a favorite of famous conductor Leonard Bernstein and depicted by academic allies as comparable in stature to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. At the same time, according to Horowitz, Newton was snorting prodigious amounts of cocaine, abusing women in the manner of medieval nobility and organizing the takeover of drug and prostitution rackets from his penthouse command post.
Horowitz split with the Panthers as a result of the killing of Betty Van Patter, a Ramparts bookkeeper whom he had recommended as an auditor for various Panther enterprises. In pursuit of answers to the mystery of Bettys death, I subsequently discovered that the Panthers had killed more than a dozen people in the course of conducting extortion, prostitution and drug rackets in the Oakland [Calif.] ghetto, Horowitz wrote. While these criminal activities were taking place, they enjoyed the support of the American left, the Democratic Party, the Bay Area Trades Union Council, even the Oakland business establishment. Horowitz, haunted by a belief that his own ideological blindness had led to Bettys death, bought a 9mm Glock pistol and a sophisticated alarm system for his car and has only looked back in anger.
Newton, accused of another killing and the target of a death contract by Oakland-area pimps, fled to Cuba. Other Panther leaders also fled the country or were killed in confrontations with the police; some did jail time and returned to society as political, spiritual and academic leaders, writers or entertainers. Some, such as H. Rap Brown, now awaiting trial for killing two sheriffs deputies in Georgia and known as Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, and celebrity cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal, apparently havent shaken their violent ways. Newton was gunned down in San Francisco on Aug. 22, 1989.
The so-called New Black Panther Party of today is not descended from the Panthers of old. In fact, former members of the 1960s-era group descended on a New Panther Party rally in Dallas not long ago to challenge them. The old-timers urged the new group to put down its rifles and shotguns and forget all that stupid stuff. Why? You only need to kick a door when its locked, former Panther official Khaleef Hasan observed.
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