WASHINGTON — Eugene Robinson thinks he has figured out Condoleezza Rice. Robinson, the black Al Franken, is a columnist for the Washington Post. On October 25, Robinson revealed why Condoleezza Rice is no lefty: a pampered bourgeois upbringing. Apparently, while growing up in Birmingham, Rice was taking piano lessons while other blacks were suffering Jim Crow laws and being beating by Bull Connor. “Rice’s parents did their best to shelter their only daughter from Jim Crow racism,” Robinson writes, “and they succeeded.” This is why she expresses no “bitterness” over her upbringing. “Because race was everything,” Robinson quotes Rice as saying, “race was nothing.”
The Robinson column is just the latest example of the schism in America, the one that has nothing to do with race: that is, the division between conservative middle-class America and the totalitarian American left. And I want to be sure I’m precise in my use of language: by totalitarian left I do not mean liberals, even ones like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. Civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks was a liberal when liberalism was at its best. She knew that quiet action and Christian love could tear down walls and transform a society. Ditto Condoleezza Rice’s parents. They knew that teaching their daughter to play Bach on the piano could rebuke racists as much as marching. No, by referring to the totalitarian left, I’m talking about terrorists. The kind that revel in murder and destruction and resentment and who infiltrated liberalism in the 1960s. The Spike Lees and Million Man Marchers. The kinds whose actions are excused, ignored, and covered up by people in the media — people like Eugene Robinson.
It’s been going on for decades. You’d never know it, but it was these kinds of terrorists who set my hometown of Washington ablaze in the riots following the murder of Martin Luther King in 1968. More than 1,200 buildings were burned and the cost was almost $25 million, the third highest in U.S. history. Four months after the riot, in August 1968, Ben W. Gilbert, a black reporter for the Washington Post, made contact with three men who claimed responsibility for the violence following King’s death. The men were left-wing agitators who had been planning violence for months before King’s death, then used King’s death to spread mayhem, provoking crowds to violence, and even using dynamite to blow up buildings. In fact, many of the rioters were looters, criminals, and kids who, according to at least one witness, cared little or nothing about Martin Luther King. This information has the ability to rewrite the historical understanding of what happened in 1968 as much as the Venona transcripts exposed the full extent of Soviet involvement in spying during the Cold War. No sane person now doubts the guilt of Alger Hiss.
GILBERT’S STUNNING JOURNALISTIC coup can be found not in history books or civil rights museums, but tucked away in a small chapter near the end of a book, Ten Blocks From the White House, written by Gilbert and the staff of the Washington Post. After the riots Gilbert put out the word that he wanted to talk to any parties responsible for any violence. Four months later he got a call at the Post, a man claiming that he had been a key player in April and wanted to talk. Gilbert met the man and two of his other revolutionaries in an old hotel. The men, who were hidden behind ski masks, were Marxist revolutionaries. One quoted Che Guevara — “In a revolution, you either win or die” — while another called white people “the Beast” and insists King was killed because he fought “colonization.” The leader then explained how they had been planning violent action in the city since February — two months before King was killed. The men then itemized, in detail, how they triggered violence after King’s death. “A lot of areas we went into,” said one, “there was nothing going on till we got there. But once we started out thing, man, people just took up.” Using Molotov cocktails and dynamite stolen from construction sites, the men bombed stores, most of them white-owned businesses in the black neighborhood now known as Shaw. One of the men claimed responsibility for at least fifteen of the fires that destroyed parts of the city. He then explained that he had at least 25 men working with him: “There is organization. Don’t you realize that, as I said, there’s a revolution going on; there must be organization! That’s the reason that it was not a riot but a rebellion! There is organization. You have your assigned districts that you work with.” It is a stunning revelation: the riots following the death of King were the result of left-wing terrorism. Think if the same thing happened with right-wing militias after Reagan was shot. Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times would dispatch platoons of reporters to investigate the fascist influence in the Republican Party. They would issue special editions tracing the lives of the men who caused the Reagan riots.
In fact, one could argue that the planning for the D.C. riot began as far back as 1966. That was the year in which the black struggle began to go sour, introducing a note of resentment and violence that is still very much part of the rhetoric of elite black journalists like Eugene Robinson and leaders like would-be president Al “No Justice No Peace” Sharpton. In 1965 there were five civil rights organizations — the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the NAACP and the Urban League. However, by early 1966 there had been a change in leadership in two of the groups. CORE’s director, James Farmer, left to launch another civil rights group, and was replaced by Floyd McKissick. McKissick, notes historian Benjamin Muse in his book The American Negro Revolution: From Nonviolence to Black Power, 1963-1967, “began to reach for newspaper headlines with sensational outbursts and launched upon a career of fire-breathing bravado.” One of his first acts was to voice support for another Vietnam resolution. Soon more moderate members of SNCC stepped down, including future congressman John Lewis. “I’m not prepared to give up my personal commitment to nonviolence,” Lewis said.
By 1966, the SNCC had also been taken over — in what Muse called “a coup d’etat” — by Stokely Carmichael, a communist born in Trinidad who came to New York at age eleven. Carmichael had, according to historian Fred Siegel, an “ideological infatuation with violence.” He and other totalitarian visionaries wanted to wed the violent action of the street radicals to the civil rights movement. Carmichael’s rhetoric, in the words of Muse, “resembled at times the anti-white fulminations of Malcolm X, at times a harangue of Sparticus to the Roman gladiators, at times the senseless bawling of an angry child.” Like Malcolm X, he renounced the “White God” of the Bible and His ethic of turning the other cheek. When Martin Luther King was assassinated, Carmichael and his fellow revolutionaries took the opportunity to exploit the grief of black America. Carmichael was stationed in Washington, D.C., after spending some time in Hanoi, Havana, and Moscow.
Reading the first-hand accounts of the riot that were written at the time, one thing becomes clear: blacks in Washington rioted in 1968 not so much in reaction to Martin Luther King’s death and frustration over the lack of civil rights, but because they were egged on by the three bomb-throwers interviewed by the Post and totalitarian thugs like Carmichael. (Was Carmichael one of the three men I wonder?) Also ignored is the uncomfortable (for liberals) fact that many of the rioters were kids greedy for free clothes from looted stores. “The crowds…generally were made up of bands of youth,” the Post reported. “Some were schoolchildren, younger than ten years old; some were teenagers and twenty-year-olds — many dropouts or unemployed.” A young black man at the scene put it more bluntly: “the death of Martin Luther King had nothing to do [with this]. It was an excuse to be destructive or clean up.” Indeed, Washington had had a problem with crime and groups of idle men and boys hanging out on street corners for years before 1968. In May 1961, there were Congressional hearings to address the problem of crime in the District. Police Chief Robert V. Murray was asked why there was increasing crime in places like Shaw when the economy was booming. “The ones that commit crime would not work under any circumstances,” Murray answered. “They do not want to work. They want to get their money the easy way, and even with employment at an all-time high, you are not going to get any of those people to take a job. They do not want a job.” Murray’s observations were validated in 1967 with the publication of Elliot Liebow’s book Tally’s Corner: A Study of Negro Streetcorner Men. Liebow had done extensive research in a black neighborhood in Washington in 1962 and 1963, and came to the same conclusion: there was a culture of idleness and resentment on the streets of Washington, despite the growing gains of the civil rights movement. This was the tinderbox to which the radicals added a match.
IN LIGHT OF ALL THIS, it’s hard to avoid an uncomfortable possibility: what happened in 1968 might easily have happened had King lived. As civil rights historian Benjamin Muse noted, “In many respects, including its confinement to a racial minority, comparison of [the radical takeover of the civil rights movement] with the French Revolution would of course be overdrawn. Yet certain analogies with that convulsion may be apt. The American Negro Revolution, preached for years by Negro intellectuals and set in motion in the early 1960s by elements of the bourgeoisie, witnessed in 1966 a rising, turbulent and misguided, of the sans-culottes.”
This is illustrated in what is one of the most remarkable scenes from the Washington riot. The morning after Martin King was murdered, Stokely Carmichael held a news conference, where he announced, “America killed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. last night… what it means is that we have gone full swing into the revolution.” After his conference Carmichael went to a rally at Howard University, one of the oldest and most prestigious black schools in America. Howard stands proudly on a hilltop over black Washington, which at the time was burning. One reporter observed that “the tenor of the speeches was vehemently anti-white.” The American flag was lowered and the flag of Ujamma, a black separatist group, was raised.
Then something remarkable happened: the doors of Howard’s Crampton auditorium opened and a throng of immaculately dressed black men and women poured forth. They had been at a memorial service for Dr. King. They had sung Brahms’s “Requiem,” the hymn “Precious Lord,” and “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” The service ended with “We Shall Overcome.” As the mourners filed out, they found themselves face to face with Carmichael, another speaker who claimed birth control was a white plot to drive down the black population, and the Ujamma flag. Here were the two faces of black America — the scowling visage of the radical and the quiet dignity of the face — the face of Condoleezza Rice and Rosa Parks — of Christian love and nonviolence. After a few minutes the crowds moved away from each other in different directions. The faithful melted into the silent majority. The destructors became politicians, professors, and in Eugene Robinson’s case, a journalist.