Power-Serving Pundits Continue McCarthyite Smears Against Women’s March

On Tuesday, the New York Times published a smear piece against the leaders of the Women's March, accusing them of embracing “anti-Americanism” and anti-Semitism. The pseudo-polemic, written by New York Times resident millennial neocon Bari Weiss, rattles off a litany of criticism about the march's embrace of figures she deems “hateful."

The criticism, aimed primarily at one of the Women's March leaders and organizers, Linda Sarsour, falls into two basic categories: that Sarsour is an anti-Zionist and that the Women’s March account tweeted out positive statements about former Black Panther and Black Liberation Army member and now-fugitive Assata Shakur, who is accused of taking part in the bank robbery that resulted in the death of a police officer in the 1970s.

Immediately after the Times published the piece, a variety of establishment pundits rushed to share it and make clear that they officially condemn the alleged pro-extremist elements. Everyone from right-wing Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake to nominal liberals Jeffrey Goldberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter promoted the article. Head of a faux-civil rights group and pro-Israel lobbyist Jon Greenblatt sung its praises, as did British imperialist and Henry Kissinger hagiographer Neil Ferguson. This comes on the heels of another manufactured dustup over the Shakur tweet by CNN’s Jake Tapper two weeks ago, when he joined the pile-on by criticizing Sarsour’s supposed embrace of a “cop killer fugitive.”

The facts of the Shakur case are far from clear, but this piece won’t seek to litigate Shakur’s guilt or innocence, since that’s not what this piece—and the half-dozen others aimed at Women's March organizers—is really about (though one should read about the exploratory evidence).

When confronted with the possibility of Shakur’s innocence, Tapper’s response summed up the bullying extortion racket at work. The CNN anchor simply mugged for his followers, wrote “nope” and proceeded to literally link to the FBI’s own website. Here we have someone who is supposedly an objective, hard-hitting journalist not only consuming the government’s narrative of events without question but linking to them as the definitive source on the matter.

“Surely the Women’s March shouldn’t embrace those who carry out violence” was the shallow talking point of the day. Except it’s largely ahistorical, virtue peacocking without any intelligent thought attached to it. Again and again, Weiss simply repeats the U.S. government's line, hand-wringing about “domestic terrorists” without examining the underlying truth or historical context of their case at hand.

Eli Lake who gushingly tweeted out the story wears shirts with Menachem Begin, a founder of Israel and noted terrorist who led a mission to blow up the King David hotel in 1946. No doubt Lake views Begin as a hero because he was fighting in service of a cause he happens to like, the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. What does Lake think the Black Liberation Army was fighting for?

Which deaths outrage us and which don't is an arbitrary bludgeon used to protect those in power and delegitimize revolutionary struggle. Lake and Goldberg moralize and condemn Sarsour for her praise of an alleged “cop killer” after they cheer-led and planted propaganda (that later turned out to be false) for a war in Iraq that killed 500,000 to one million people. (Incidentally, did Goldberg ever find those al-Qaeda-aligned Hezbollah sleeper cells in South America?) Do the lives of countless dead Muslims not matter? Why should Lake and Goldberg not be shunned for their advocating of violence—even more so because theirs was of the imperialist and racist variety?

It’s unclear. Performative outrage over violence doesn’t require any coherent discussion of the political context of the violence; it simply requires shallow moral posturing and linking to the FBI website. Was Shakur guilty? If she was, why was the BLA robbing banks? What was the FBI’s history with black radical and reformist groups in the 1960s and 1970s?

These questions don’t require dissection, because as Noam Chomsky noted some years back, concision is inherently conservative. The idea that “cop killers.” “FBI fugitives” and “domestic terrorists” are evil and any praise of them makes one persona non grata is simply taken for granted. Any robust discussion as to why the BLA needed money for its revolutionary purposes is irrelevant. 

This charge is the animating cause of the extreme center. Its job is to act as the vanguard of conventional wisdom, the tip of the sword to protect the official, bipartisan narratives of power. By praising black radicals (in their non-sanitized, living iteration) and overtly rejecting Zionism, leaders of the Women’s March have violated two core taboos of appropriate discourse. They must therefore be punished, and the high-status pundits at CNN and the Atlantic and New York Times are there precisely to do this.


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