David Horowitz (1939-) is a Republican columnist and activist who runs the innocuously named far-right advocacy group Center for the Study of Popular Culture. He has a regular column in Salon magazine and runs another website, FrontPageMagazine.com. Horowitz was once a left-wing activist, which is not unusual in and of itself, but the virulent hatred he has of the left and how it motivates him to play fast and loose with the facts rival even the worst nutballs of the religious right.

Horowitz was the son of communist parents and grew up in an extremely left-wing household in Queens. His father, a high school teacher, was fired in 1952 for "insubordination" after he refused to answer when questioned whether or not he was a communist. As early as his teens, he was going to left-wing protests. He graduated from Columbia and went to Berkeley for graduate studies in English, jumping into the fray with the protests against the House Unamerican Activities Committee in the late 1950s. He penned a slim book/rant called Student (1962) about those years, which inspired none other than Mario Savio, one of the leaders of the west coast activist counterculture, to head to west, because "Berkeley is the place".

He married and went to Europe for the next several years, working with socialist intellectuals, but returned to California in 1968 to work for Ramparts, a key 1960s leftist publication. The following year, Robert Scheer, the old comrade of Horowitz who had asked him to return and work with him was ousted, and Horowitz and Peter Collier took the helm. But they were nowhere near as successful as Scheer and Warren Hinckle, and Ramparts died in 1975.

Jean Genet, the famous French playwright, made a fateful call in 1974 to the offices of Ramparts looking for a translator. Genet was a vocal supporter of The Black Panthers, and soon enough Horowitz was hanging out with Huey Newton. But the Panthers of 1974 were not the Panthers of the 60s. Horowitz fell in with the Panthers at a time when many left-wingers, black and white, were abandoning them because they were becoming increasingly violent and more interested in dealing drugs than community development. Newton himself was using cocaine and soon fled to Cuba after shooting a prostitute.

When asked to find a bookkeeper for the Panthers, he suggested a white woman named Betty Van Patter, a former Ramparts employee. Horowitz had been under the spell of the Panthers, to the point of denouncing a black sociologist he had attempted to recruit as an uncle Tom. But as he grew more disenchanted, he also grew more wary, fearful for himself and his family. He didn’t warn Van Patter because he worried that she would denounce him to the Panthers because she didn’t entirely trust Horowitz.

A month later her body was discovered in San Francisco Bay. No one was arrested or charged, but everyone, right or left, pretty much agrees that she was killed by the Panthers after nosing around in some of their illegal activities. Except, of course, the Panthers.

The death of Betty Van Patter is Horowitz’s Rosebud, his white whale. He was racked with guilt over her death and his failure to warn her. His marriage collapsed and he began to lose his left-wing friends as he headed rightward. In 1984 he voted for Ronald Reagan. By the late 80s, he was writing speeches for Bob Dole and working to pass anti-affirmative action Proposition 209 in California.

The 90s for Horowitz were marked by one tirade after another as he embraced all the cliches of the right, attacking everything and everyone from homosexuals to John Kenneth Galbraith. Some of his more prominent publications include Hating Whitey, an amusingly titled anti-black tirade, and The Art of Political War, a blueprint for Republican attack campaigns.

Many of you first heard of Horowitz because of his manufactured controversy regarding the anti-slavery reparations rant he attempted to place in a number of college campus newspapers. Frankly, it’s not that hard to make college students do stupid things, and as much as Horowitz rants and raves about censorship, he clearly knew exactly what was going to happen and provoked this "controversy" to promote himself and his agenda. And the idea that campus newspapers were a hotbed of liberal censorship and not conservative censorship was easily and cleverly disproven when another Salon writer attempted to place ads in college newspapers claiming that "GOD IS AN ABORTIONIST". But that doesn’t get on the Sunday morning talk shows, while Horowitz does.

While I was researching and writing this, I couldn’t help but develop a sympathy for Horowitz I didn't have before. Really. But as sorry as I feel for him (and for Van Patter), his anti-left crusade is nothing but an attempt to exorcise the guilt he feels about Van Patter’s death. He has taken the murder of one woman by a small band of thugs and inflated that to indict an entire political movement, branding it as so evil that anything goes, including racism, homophobia, and manipulating facts. He is an uncritical fanatic who has merely exchanged one fanaticism for another.

Sources: Scott Sherman, "David Horowitz's Long March", The Nation, July 3, 2000 (http://past.thenation.com/cgi-bin/framizer.cgi?url=http://past.thenation.com/issue/000703/0703sherman.shtml); numerous Salon articles

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