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Jewish World Review Dec. 28, 1999 /19 Teves, 5760

David Horowitz

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Brain Dead Till the End -- IN THE DECEMBER 20, 1999 Salon there appear two responses from the subjects of my Letter to the Past, which appeared in Salon's December 13th under the title "Who Killed Betty Van Patter." One of them was from Art Goldberg, whose letter accusing me of not taking responsibility for Betty Van Patter's death was the occasion of mine. A second was from former Yippee! leader Stew Albert. The letters are reprinted below; my response follows:

David Horowitz omitted a key section from my letter in his Salon column. This is what he left out: "If you felt it necessary to have some accounting of the funds you had raised, you should have called [Panther leader] Elaine [Brown], and told her Betty was working for you and if there were any questions about Betty, she was to tell you ... Also, you should have told Betty to bring any irregularities to you and you should have discussed them with Elaine." This, of course, would have made it clear that David was responsible. Instead, he hid behind Betty Van Patter, and let her take the consequences.

Horowitz also chose to omit my reminder that the Panther school had just received a large grant from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, a favorite program of Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell. Since Panther finances were generally chaotic, they would be especially wary of someone poking into their books at that time.

Horowitz has a selective and flawed memory. I warned him several times in the early '70s not to get too close to the Panthers. Newton was in Cuba, Seale was back east, Cleaver was in exile, and a new crew was in charge. They were running many fine programs: the school, Breakfast for Children, sickle cell anemia detection, free health clinics, and job training projects that Horowitz fails to mention. But there seemed to be a dangerous undercurrent, and I and others close to the Panthers chose to pull back.

That's when David, against our advice, blindly rushed in. This was strange, because in the '60s and early '70s, he almost never went to demonstrations. He was always too busy writing. So when he describes himself as a New Left activist, it's simply untrue.

It's also strange that he omits my affiliation with Ramparts. He and I shared an office there in 1968, and in 1971 he sent me to New Haven to cover Bobby Seale's trial. Since my piece ran in Ramparts, he should know the jury voted 11-1 and 10-2 to acquit Seale and Ericka Huggins of murder, and that the judge subsequently threw out the charges against them. Yet in his column, he says the Panthers were guilty of that murder.

Likewise, Horowitz neglects to mention that the police were never able to find out who killed Betty Van Patter. Is he suggesting that the Oakland Police were in cahoots with the Panthers in the Van Patter case?

Horowitz is also mistaken when he says Newton "assigned" me to write a book with attorney Charles Garry. Actually, Newton and Garry were not on speaking terms in 1973 when I began working on the book, at Garry's request. Newton never assigned me to do anything. In fact, I first met Newton when Horowitz assigned me to interview him for Ramparts in 1971.

It's interesting to me that someone who makes a living accusing people of political and other crimes has such a total disregard for the facts himself.

—Art Goldberg


David Horowitz states that I called him a "police agent" for condemning the SLA for murdering Marcus Foster, the Oakland superintendent of schools. This is a lie. I never called him a police agent—and the letter he refers to, which appeared in Ramparts, also condems the murder of Marcus Foster.

As for David's work with the Panthers, he began doing this when most of the Berkeley radicals were pulling away from them because we suspected links to criminal activity and gangsterism. That he recruited a politically experienced individual like Betty into that environment boggles the reasonable mind. Art Goldberg is correct—if David had asked me if it was wise or safe to work would the Panthers, I would certainly have advised against it. But back then David was the sort of guy who always thought he knew the truth better than anyone else.

—Stew Albert


YOU WOULD THINK THAT SOMEONE you knew for fifty years, whom you had helped out, who was part of a small group of people involved with an organization that had killed a mutual friend and brought you to grief, would make a modest effort to find out the facts before attacking you over the crime. Not Art. Here he is writing a "reply" to my letter that defends and repeats his accusations against me, but shows that he has not even bothered to read what I wrote.

"Horowitz also chose to omit my reminder that the Panther school had just received a large grant from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration…." Here's what I wrote in the Salon article: "At the time of Betty's death, Elaine … had just secured a $250,000 grant from the Nixon Administration under a federal juvenile delinquency program." So completely is Art absorbed in his own whine that he seemingly never read my letter before attacking it.

The same is true of his complaint that I "omit" his affiliation with Ramparts. I specifically mentioned the affiliation and described how Peter and I carried him for years and how, out of our friendship, Peter rewrote his copy to make it come up to the magazine's standard.

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The failure to read what I wrote in Salon pales, however, beside the fact that he obviously has never read the passages in Radical Son : A Generational Odyssey, where I have told the story of Betty's death and my response. If he had, he could have saved his little moral lecture, since I long ago took on myself responsibility not only for what I did, but for what he and the rest of the left did, and still deny. And they have punished me accordingly. (Art has been a little slow on the draw here.)

The reason I didn't print the remarks from his letter that imputed to me a desire "to have an accounting of the funds [I] had raised" and his advice to tell Elaine that Betty was working for me was because these comments were so out of touch with the reality of what actually took place that there was no point in dealing with them at all. As readers of my autobiography know (but Art apparently does not), Betty wasn't working for me at the time that she was killed, and I was no longer involved with the Panthers. In fact, I had had no contact with the Panthers for two months before her death.

I think readers of this exchange will have an easy time figuring out whom to trust to have the more accurate memory about what kind of "warnings" Art was providing back then. A man who is still trying to cover his tracks 25 years later is probably not going to be overly scrupulous about the facts then either. Protecting his hide first and last.

Since Art is the author of a never-retracted book defending the murderer himself as an innocent man, it is unlikely—is it not?—that he would have told me then that I was in danger from Newton, as he implies. I notice he does not actually name Newton as a danger, even with hindsight. "There seemed to be a dangerous undercurrent" in the Panthers is all he can write even now. But the "Panthers" were just an extended squad that served the great leader's whims. Huey Newton had absolute power over all of them. If he was not dangerous, and if I was working directly with him, why should I have had cause to worry? Who was Art afraid of? His friends David Hilliard and Bobby Seale? Since Art is a "progressive" journalist specializing in exposés of injustice, it is hardly insignificant that he has not written a word in 25 years identifying those Panthers who were criminals or any Panther crimes. If he cannot do that now, why would he have done it then?

Art's claim that because a jury voted to acquit Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins of the charges that they murdered Alex Rackley, the Panthers are exonerated, is a vintage leftwing smokescreen. No one, not even the Panthers' defense team, denied that Alex Rackley was tortured and murdered by the New Haven Panthers. Two Panthers were convicted of the murder and served time in jail for it. One of them even claims to be sorry. The contested issue in New Haven was whether a Panther named George Sams, who gave the orders to torture and murder Rackley, had been himself ordered to do so by Ericka Huggins and Bobby Seale, or whether he was a "police agent" and law enforcement itself was responsible. That torturing and shooting a Panther like Rackley was considered normal party procedure by the New Haven chapter tells you all you really need to know about Panther leaders like Huggins and Seale. However, in those revolutionary times—when law students Hillary Clinton and (present Deputy Attorney General) Bill Lann Lee were busy organizing Panther demonstrations to shut down the trial, a jury found Huggins and Seale innocent of the charges. But then, several other juries in the Seventies also failed to convict Huey Newton of murders we know he committed.

I admit to not knowing the details of Art's arrangement to write the official biography of Huey Newton's chief legal counsel, the man who defended Newton when he shot officer John Frey in the back. I notice the coyness of Art's claim that Garry was not speaking to Newton "when I began working on the book." How about when you finished the book, Art? Since Art's book portrayed Huey as an innocent victim of police conspiracies, and there was no protest about its contents from Panther headquarters, we can assume that the murderer was happy with his portrait. That was my point.

Stew Albert now claims that he has the attitude of a vigilante when it comes to "criminal activities and gangsterism." But in the Sixties, in articles that appeared in the Berkeley Barb, he was busy celebrating gangsters like John Dillinger as revolutionary heroes. The article about Dillinger, if memory serves, was actually called "The Outlaw As Revolutionary." Why am I not impressed by his present claims that if I had asked him if Huey was a criminal, he would have told me he was, and that would have been a negative? The new left thought of criminals as rebels before the fact. The real reason radicals like Stew were drawing back from the Panthers in the early 70s was because Eldridge Cleaver and the Black Liberation Army were calling Newton a "sellout" for refusing to launch a guerrilla war in American streets and for announcing that it was time "to put away the gun."

As for the letter to Ramparts that Stew Albert wrote in response to an editorial I had written condemning the Symbionese Liberation Army, its substance was that I had "given the green light to the police" to murder the members of the SLA who had been killed in a shootout in Los Angeles. In my Salon article, I summarized this—perhaps too quickly—by saying Stew had called me an agent of the police. I apologize if I failed to be sensitive to the nuances involved and if this caused Mr. Albert undue discomfort. I am confident that, despite my efforts, both he and Art will go to their graves blissfully free of any sense of guilt for anything they have ever done.

JWR contributor David Horowitz is editor of Front Page Magazine and the author of several books, including, Hating Whitey, Art of Political War, Radical Son : A Generational Odyssey . Comment on this article by clicking here.


12/14/99: Letter to the past
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11/23/99: MLK is no doubt spinning in his grave
11/10/99: Finding the American Center
11/02/99: Reflections on The Road Taken and Not

©1999, David Horowitz