Joe Schoffstall went to New York’s Zuccotti Park last week and found a man holding aloft a hand-lettered sign with the slogan, “Arrest the Bankers.” Schoffstall, a young reporter for Brent Bozell’s Media Research Center, asked the man a simple question: “What are your thoughts on Israel?”
The protester’s response, captured by the MRC’s video camera, was memorable: “Israel is white Europe — eastern Europeans — who has [sic] usurped and occupied Arab land, and they have displaced the indigenous Arab Palestinian people at gunpoint. When Israel was founded in 1948… in 1949, Israel secretly began working on a nuclear… atomic nuclear program to wipe out her neighbors. So the hatred of the Arabs for Israel is understandable.… And I’ll say that the Jews control Wall Street. Google ‘Jewish billionaires.’ Google ‘Jews and the Federal Reserve bank.’ Google ‘Jews and Wall Street.’ America’s finances is [sic] controlled by the Jews. Wall Street, the media, the legal profession — Jewish money is the engine in politics.… The Jews commit more white-collar crime than any other ethnic group on the earth and they go unprosecuted because they can buy their way out of it.”
It would be unfair to conclude from this one demented example that the “Occupy Wall Street” movement is significantly motivated by, or deliberately tolerant of, paranoid anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. But the rant recorded by Schoffstall’s camera crew was not the only example of such kook-fringe beliefs among the mobs that have descended on lower Manhattan and other urban spaces across America in the weeks since these anti-capitalism protests began. Documented examples of anti-Semitism among the “Occupy” crowds were sufficiently numerous to prompt the Emergency Committee for Israel to release an online ad questioning support for the demonstrations voiced by Democratic Party leaders, including President Obama, who said the movement “expresses the frustrations that the American people feel.”
Obama’s invocation of “the American people” and their “frustrations” might permit some other conspiracy theorists to suggest — with far better evidence — that the protesters camped in Zuccotti Park are part of a deliberate effort by the president and his party to undermine the free enterprise system. Several conservative commentators have interpreted “Occupy Wall Street” in light of Saul Alinsky’s radical maxim: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it.” Others see the anti-capitalist mobs in the context of the “Cloward-Piven Strategy” to foment a crisis that would bring about a socialist revolution. This suggestion cannot be lightly dismissed. One of the architects of that 1960s-era strategy, Professor Frances Fox Piven, is an active supporter of the movement and told a public-radio interviewer: “I think we desperately need a popular uprising in the United States.” Piven also denounced the financial industry at a Sept. 29 rally in New York where, in a bizarre call-and-response speech, she told the crowd: “You’ve heard people say they’re greedy, and they are greedy. You’ve heard people say that they are thieves, and they are thieves. But they’re also cannibals, because they are eating their own.”
Any reasonably well-informed person who listens to Piven’s counter-factual assertions (e.g., that we have budget deficits “because big business and finance has stopped paying taxes”) need not wonder why so many allegedly smart young people have joined the “Occupy” movement. Piven is one of the nation’s most influential academics, past president of the American Sociological Association and a “Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Political Science” at the graduate school of the City University of New York. Professor Piven is not merely a teacher, but a teacher of teachers, whose former pupils are now themselves influential professors at many of the nation’s most prestigious institutions. And it is perfectly plausible to say that Professor Piven’s most illustrious student, dating back to the era when she taught at Columbia University, is the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Six decades after Bill Buckley warned of the academic elite’s collectivist drift in God and Man at Yale, we now behold the rotten fruit of that tree: An Ivy League graduate in the White House praising the inchoate rage of anti-capitalist mobs, a rage incited by the likes of Professor Piven at rallies that draw heavily from among the brightest students at our nation’s finest universities.
Whereas the anti-Semitic idiot interviewed by Schoffstall could be dismissed as a marginal kook whose views are not representative of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement as a whole, the same cannot be said of Professor Piven and the young protesters who enthusiastically echoed her words in Zuccotti Park. Those who declare that capitalists are “thieves ” and “cannibals” are proclaiming doctrines propagated by the academic left for more than half a century. Students haven’t been taught to understand capitalism, but rather to hate capitalism. Hating is easier than understanding, after all, and elite students nowadays are far more likely to be assigned the Marxist history of Howard Zinn than to be schooled in the economics of Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman.
Hostility toward the free market is one of those hateful prejudices that, to borrow a phrase from Rodgers and Hammerstein, “you’ve got to be carefully taught.” Idiots on the fringes of the “Occupy” crowd who demonize Jews may ultimately be less dangerous than the allegedly well-educated young people who form the core of the mobs that vilify capitalism. And as Ronald Reagan once observed, “The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.”