A 78-year-old professor from New York became the target of death threats after Fox News conspiracy theorist Glenn Beck began castigating her as the source of what he called a communist plot to destroy America.
Prof. Frances Fox Piven, who’s long taught sociology at the City University of New York and served as an honorary chair of the Democratic Socialists of America, became the target of Beck’s ire in recent weeks after he accused her of authoring a plan to overthrow the government in the 1960s.
On Beck’s personal news website The Blaze, which has persisted in its pursuit of the professor even after its readers erupted with threats against Piven, one commenter by the name “superwrench4” ominously wrote, “I have 5000 rounds ready and I’ll give My life to take Our freedom back.”
Another, Jst1425, declared: “ONE SHOT…ONE KILL!” And a third insisted the only “redistribution” needed was “that of a precious metal…. LEAD.”
Beck’s selection of Piven was apparently due to her recent editorial in liberal magazine The Nation, where she cited her 1966 paper outlining a strategy to form a coalition movement between “civil rights organizations, militant anti-poverty groups and the poor.”
In times of a down economy, she proposed, such a group would be so irrefutable that it could force Congress to act on legislation aimed at eradicating poverty in the United States.
That paper, first published by The Nation, was run again last March. In it, she calls public welfare systems so “restrictive” that officials often resort to reducing the numbers on their rolls by “failing to inform people of the rights available to them,” or through intimidation and shame. Piven called for a destruction of the current welfare programs, which she suggested serve instead to perpetuate poverty.
In order to remake welfare into a system that’s more efficient at eradicating poverty, she urged a “widespread campaign” to register eligible poor Americans with their local welfare programs. The effect of so many people being made aware of their rights and the resources afforded them would cause a fiscal crisis, Piven suggested, forcing federal action on a wholly remade system of welfare.
She insisted that any new system must not “perpetuate in a new guise the present evils” of today’s system.
Coordinating protest, not instigating revolt
“[Income] should be distributed without requiring that recipients first divest themselves of their assets, as public welfare now does, thereby pauperizing families as a condition of sustenance,” Piven wrote.
The basic framework of her proposed reforms was akin to Social Security: a system paid for by working people, to help support working people.
Should education campaigns and mobilizations of organizers ultimately succeed in making America’s poor more aware of their rights and the problems inherent to welfare, she continued, a “climate of militancy” would “overcome” the prejudicial attitudes of many toward those on public aid programs, thus growing the movement for reform further still.
In her Dec. editorial, Piven suggested that the spirit of student movements in Europe may come to America due to a climate of extreme unemployment currently being experienced by many American youths.
“An effective movement of the unemployed will have to look something like the strikes and riots that have spread across Greece in response to the austerity measures forced on the Greek government by the European Union, or like the student protests that recently spread with lightning speed across England in response to the prospect of greatly increased school fees,” she argued, emphasizing the historical effectiveness of disruptive strikes in political discourse.
It’s a call not dissimilar to author Naomi Wolf’s analysis of why most American protests are ineffective: that effective protest, which only happens by stopping business as usual, has been “killed off” by officials’ efforts to make it illegal by restricting mass dissent with permits.
“For a protest to be effective, you have to stop traffic,” Wolf said in 2009, while discussing her book “Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries.”
“What keeps you from getting a [protest] permit in the United States?” she asked. “Stepping a foot into the street.”
Piven was not the only one capable of understanding the hastening convergence of political interests, economic instability and diverse groups. In a recent interview with Russia Today, trends analyst Gerald Celente, who predicted the financial collapse of 2008, said that 2011 would be the year of a global youth uprising coordinated on the Internet. He further predicted a growing coalition between libertarians and progressives that would work to break a corporatist monopoly in the US Congress.
Celente’s prediction was later echoed by Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), a famed libertarian, and Ralph Nader, a well-known progressive. Appearing on a Fox Business program with libertarian host Judge Napolitano recently, both agreed that libertarians and progressives share much political common ground and could form a coalition to achieve shared objectives.
Beck, on the other hand, appeared to be engaging in rhetoric designed to drive the two groups apart.
A series of violent fantasies
During a January 5 broadcast, Beck called Piven’s prognostications an actual plot to destroy America — even suggesting she and private investor George Soros were behind an effort “to collapse our economic system.”
Beck has long proved highly controversial as a media figure popularized by the conservative-leaning Fox News Channel, which employs virtually all of the leading contenders for the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nomination. He’s previously joked about poisoning Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and once claimed that President Obama wanted to enslave white people.
Beck further suggested in June that there’s only one way to stop this alleged anti-American agenda: “You’re going to have to shoot them in the head,” he said of Democratic leaders.
His litany of outrageous comments and often completely fabricated narratives led many advertisers to stop supporting his program and at one point last year his show found itself without even a single underwriter in Britain, where it has been kept on the air nearly 11 months with no advertisers.
Some have even accused Beck, among others, of being a direct inspiration to killers who allegedly adhered to some of his more extreme political fantasies.
One California man, Byron Williams — who was arrested after opening fire on the police officers who discovered him in the process of donning a bullet-proof vest — later claimed he wanted to “start a revolution.” His targets were two groups Beck had made out to be antagonists: the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Tides Foundation.
Williams’ targeting of the Tides Foundation was especially indicative of Beck’s inspiration: they were almost completely unknown until he began claiming the foundation was somehow behind a massive communist conspiracy to kill Americans.
The Tides Foundation is actually a non-profit group that awards grants to other non-profits committed to progressive initiatives. Financing from Tides helped form People For the American Way and the ACLU’s Campaign to Defend the Constitution, among others.
Following the incident, Tides Foundation CEO Drummond Pike urged advertisers to drop Beck or come to terms with potentially one day having “blood” on their hands.
In the wake of threats against Piven, even more conservative media, including The Wall Street Journal, picked up Beck’s line of claiming she’s laid out a truly violent agenda the likes of which Beck cannot hope to reach.
“We are all on notice,” Stanley Kurtz wrote in the neoconservative National Review Online. “If Beck is banned from criticizing Piven, we will be too. The irony is that it is Piven herself who has called for violence, and with the editorial authority of The Nation behind her. That is the upside-down world in which we now live.”
Beck has repeatedly denounced violence as a solution to what he sees as America’s problems, but his critics accuse him of knowing duplicity in perpetuating “paranoid narratives” that place public figures into frighteningly absolutist positions.
Responding to coverage by The New York Times on threats against Piven’s life, the Fox News conspiracy host mocked his critics and implied that they hate America’s founding documents because of when they were written.
This video is from the Fox News Channel, broadcast Jan. 5, 2010.
This audio is from Glenn Beck’s radio program, broadcast, Jan. 24, 2010, as snipped by liberal watchdog group Media Matters.