The Curious Case of the Martyrdom of Frances Fox Piven

Last week, I was enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee while perusing my local New Jersey newspapers online. That moment of serenity promptly evaporated when I was jolted by a headline that read, “Stop the Vitriol of the Right? A Lesson From the ACORN Tragedy.”

What? This wasn’t the Huffington Post or Media Matters, it was my local NJ online news site. After reading it, I initially dismissed the post, shrugging it off as an asinine tirade by the author, John Atlas, who also lives here in NJ and is a very active supporter of ACORN and hostile to any views that aren’t on the far left. While I almost expected the lecture about promoting civility in the wake of the Tucson tragedy, it was the ugliness of his rant against the right and the stretch he made to connect it all to ACORN that befuddled me. Nearly a week later, that post was still on my mind.

Then came the left’s latest meme against free speech, and this bizarre charade of hoisting Frances Fox Piven as their newest martyr. Ah, now it made sense.

To start with, Atlas’ post was certainly interestingly timed. Just last month, he was making the rounds promoting his new book, “Seeds of Change: The Story of ACORN, America’s Most Controversial Antipoverty Community Organizing Group.” In this interview below, he ends by saying,

“We need organizations that are going to give voice to the poor so that our democratic system works better, and that is the biggest tragedy. And to the extent that Breitbart and his gang undermine that effort, I think that’s a disaster.”

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(Part 1 of the video is here. Take notice of who’s conducting the interview, by the way. That would be, the campaign run by Velvet Revolution. We wrote about them and their co-founders, one of whom is a convicted domestic terrorist. The irony speaks for itself.)

Then of course, there is Tucson.

In that January 19th post at the blog, John Atlas (more on him in a moment) exploits the Tucson tragedy, peddling the same old race-baiting rhetoric and false accusations of the right as an entire class of people who engage in violence and fear people of color.

But if the recent history of ACORN is a guide to the future, Obama’s attempt to jolt the nation into civility, something we desperately need, will fail. And unless Obama fights to protect his base from the upcoming attacks by the Right, he will undermine our chance for a resurgent movement based on respect, equality and democracy.

Imagine how Rush Limbaugh and the Fox News commentators from Sarah Palin to Glenn Beck would have responded to the Tucson violence if we discovered the gunman had some connection to ACORN, the group demonized by conservatives as a dangerous, even criminal organization.

Would they have pushed their current talking points about the assassin being a lone wolf, a paranoid schizophrenic completely unaffected by the political rhetoric of the left? Or would they have assumed as gospel that the left created an atmosphere that led to the assassination? Would they have used the occasion to destroy and vilify ACORN, formally the nation’s largest anti-poverty group, as well as its Democratic supporters?

We know the answer.

It’s funny that Atlas would pose such a hypothetical situation. Because that very instance did actually occur just last month. Simply swap out ACORN with Media Matters.

Remember Clay Duke, the distraught Florida man who shot at members of a Bay County School Board (and missed) before killing himself? How did the right respond when it was revealed that Clay was an anti-capitalist fan of Media Matters? With restraint and a good amount of sanity in its coverage, actually. Most were quick to point out that despite the hypocrisy of Media Matters, which had spent the prior five months accusing “right wing media and Glenn Beck’s chalkboard” of inciting Byron Williams to plot assassination, the real blame lies with the person who committed the crime:


(directed to Eric Boehlert of Media Matters)

Would you like to comment on being among the Florida school board shooters favorite websites? Or would you prefer to admit that the actions of a disturbed individual with a police record, who was thousands of miles away at the time have nothing to do with you.

Michelle Malkin:

So who’s to blame for this shooting and suicide? Media Matters? Bernie Sanders? No — Clay Duke is to blame (I refuse to shed my “personal responsibility” streak as tempting as it can be at times).

This, in the face of frustration, much like Tucson, as some on the left still managed to blame the Florida shooting on “another Glenn Beck killer on the loose.” (the left’s way of saying “anyone on the right”)

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And then John Atlas makes the usual condemnations, calling for action to shut down those who hold an opinion that dissents from his:

We must condemn the violent rhetoric on TV and radio that can lead to vicious acts by deranged extremists. And denounce corporations and public figures that inflame ordinary people in order to achieve concealed corporate political ends and enhance profits. We need to demand that corporations paying the bills stop feeding the violent rhetoric of the hate media. Obama needs to promote civility, protect his base, and more.

The concern that Atlas expresses here is quite puzzling. Less than a year ago, he was noticeably flippant when he wrote about death threats made against Chris Christie, the sitting governor of the very state in which he and I both reside. These were real threats made by actual perpetrators– not would-be, hypothetical, what-if boogeymen.

From his post on 4/19/2010 at the Huffington Post:

You might have heard about the recent so-called “death threat” to New Jersey Governor Christie that was stupidly included in a memo sent by the Bergen County New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) affiliate to its locals. A “…teacher’s union rep has ripped a page from Tony Soprano’s playbook — and issued a ham-handed death threat against Gov. Chris Christie,” screamed the NY Daily news. For days Christie has protested and the mainstream press, including the Daily News and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, went over the top fanning the hysterical flames to sell their news, completely oblivious to the history of Rove and his disciples using this tactic.


So okay Governor Christie, if you want to continue your drama queen act about the “death threat” which no one took seriously, at least take a principled stand and attack your own party members when they create a much more real threat. And let’s not fall for the Rovian trick. Let’s not take our eye off the ball — real threats of violence by heavily armed, racist supporters of Sarah Palin and friends.

“Real threats of violence by heavily armed, racist supporters of Sarah Palin and friends?”

Good grief. What a statement. Really, come on now. Seriously? Do I even need to explain the relevance of this to the logic of John Atlas?

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Where has the Orwellian Ministry of Truth been on this sort of rhetoric? What else do you think happens when you lie about a class of people and smear them as heat-packing racists? That exact same rhetoric from last year is what was spewed about after the Tucson tragedy. And now the author of it is lecturing the country about the violent language of the right?

The sound of crickets was abound throughout our coverage of all the death threats stoked by the left in the wake of the Tucson tragedy – threats against Sarah Palin, Andrew Breitbart, Dana Loesch, many others, including even me. Where were the NY Times and Media Matters then?

Perhaps the thought police were busy concocting their newest tactic.

As soon as I saw the left start pushing this narrative about death threats against Frances Fox Piven that were made in anonymous blog postings and email, I was immediately reminded of the last paragraph of Atlas’ post.

Some Tea Party and other right wing activists will resort to violence in language and action because they feel their very existence is threatened by people of color who are ascending to power, whether it be Obama in the White House or Latinos demanding citizenship. A populist movement on the left to reduce unemployment, promote good jobs, and rein in the power of large corporations will help. But it will probably take a generational change, driven by race blindness in music, workplace integration, and intermarriage, for the children of the Tea Party members to grow up not fearing people of color. [my emphasis]

“Violence in language.” It’s quite a subjective term, is it not? Words themselves, and the way they are spoken, how they are interpreted – it’s all quite subjective.

I’m not dismissing or condoning any threats made against Ms. Piven. If legitimate threats were made, then these are every bit as offensive and unacceptable as the threats made against many of us on the right in response to the Tucson tragedy.

But let’s also call the rest of this rhetoric out for what it is. It’s anti-conservative bigotry.

Conservatives are smart folks. We fully realize what it means when we hear a phrase like “Glenn Beck killer” or see a headline like “How the right-wing media and Glenn Beck’s chalkboard drove Byron Williams to plot assassination.” It doesn’t matter who it is the left’s attacking – Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Andrew Breitbart – it’s not about the person. The accusations are a silencing tactic, an intentional chill on free speech. Toxify anyone with a megaphone, and you shut down a lot of other dialogue. You make the rest afraid to speak their own minds, while the views of the left become the dominant viewpoints. And that’s exactly what leftists want.

It’s repressive tolerance. Classic 1965 Herbert Marcuse.

When someone is so deluded to suggest that the “children of the Tea Party members” must be saved, must be taught not to fear people of color and to not want to oppress poor people, it merely confirms his complete disconnect with real America. Most on the right fully embrace the concept that was ACORN – empowering citizens to make a difference in their own communities. Non-government solution. Terrific. But, as even many who were once dedicated ACORN employees will tell you, ACORN was not necessarily the concept that it would have had the world believe. And when whistleblowers tried to come forward and expose the truth, ACORN made sure that couldn’t happen. Whether you agree with the tactics or not, when ACORN was forced into transparency, the deep roots of its problems were finally revealed publicly. Transparency is supposed to be a good thing.

But all of that is behind us now. At least, it should have been. Somehow, the Tucson tragedy has brought it all back. Which leads us to the questions: Why ACORN? Why Piven? And why now?

Let me briefly explain some of the characters in this story.

As an organizer and activist attorney in NJ, John Atlas worked for years with a government funded legal aid services organization. A tactic he often employed was the use of lawsuits against the state, as well as taxpayer-funded class-action lawsuits, in order to force changes in public policy, most often related to public housing. Sure, sometimes legal action can be a good thing, but sometimes it can also be abused. Congress of course later banned such activity in 1996 for that reason, after it was revealed by the General Accounting Office that similar federally-funded legal services organizations were abusing taxpayer funding for political purposes. He later moved on to a fellowship at Columbia.

Nationally, Atlas is better known as an academic who specializes in anti-conservative rants, mostly in defense of ACORN, posting at liberal sites like Huffington Post and In fact, as you’ve seen, Atlas is no fan of the Big sites. He’s published quite a few posts about us over there at Huff-n-Puff, including one promoting the IndictBreitbart campaign. (And after reading that one, I don’t think he likes it much that he and James O’Keefe are neighbors).

Atlas is also the other half of a tag-team with Peter Drier. (Dreir coincidentally hails from the same place in NJ as me, so I am sure that he won’t be surprised when I point out that I’m all too familiar with poverty and the effects of racial and social tensions in communities). Regular readers of the Big sites may recognize Dreier from our “Academia-Gate / Cry Wolf” series, as well as his snarky e-mail exchange with Andrew Breitbart. Dreier’s no fan of the Big sites either. And he’s also been mighty angry at conservatives like Stanley Kurtz for exposing him in Kurtz’s new book. Have you seen Kurtz’s post over at NRO?

Atlas and Dreier, along with Heather Booth (also originally from NJ) who has a long history with many pro-socialist organizations, are board members of the NJ based National Housing Institute. All three have been prominent members of the Democratic Socialists of America. I could go further with this part of the story, but better to hold all that for another day.

All are staunch allies of Piven and her work. In fact, Piven herself, along with Bertha Lewis, has helped Atlas promote his ACORN book.

These are academics who all know and work together with one another. They favor a socialistic style of government. Their beef is not with people like you and me. Their beef is with people like Roger Ailes and Karl Rove, who they somehow view as the only obstacles to moving the left agenda forward. They’ve convinced themselves that FOX News has brainwashed all of us stupid conservatives. It allows them to dehumanize all of us. Why can’t we just want socialsim?!

Let’s remember, the recent NY Times article about Piven starts out in the first sentence by pointing out that even a mention on Glenn Beck’s radio and television shows has elevated even the obscure onto best-seller lists. So, perhaps none of this is coincidence at all. We’re all talking about Piven, Booth, Dreier, and Atlas. Meanwhile, Stanley Kurtz has a book out at the same time that exposes these very same people and ACORN for what they all are. And right now, I think they’re scared.

It would all almost be silly. But the reality is that some people, on both sides, really have been threatened. The truth is, the most threatening thing to these people on the left is an educated argument. That’s the only threat ANYONE should be exercising.


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