Susan Rosenberg was a terrorist in the early 1980s. Like her Weathermen comrades, she would have killed many people had she been a more competent terrorist. She was a fugitive plotting more bombings when she and a co-conspirator were captured in New Jersey, armed to the gills and toting over 700 pounds of dynamite. At her sentencing, she proclaimed, “Long live the armed struggle” against “U.S. imperialism.” Her only regret was that she hadn’t shot it out with the police who arrested her. A federal judge sentenced her to 58 years’ imprisonment.
I know her story well because, when she claimed she was being denied parole unlawfully, I spent over a year as the prosecutor arguing that the court should keep her in the slammer. Finally, the court ruled against her.
Her commutation may have outraged most Americans, but it was celebrated by the nation’s “progressive” opinion elites, the same ones who were cool with President Clinton’s release of the FALN terrorists. Granted, Rosenberg didn’t get the hero’s welcome at New York City’s Puerto Rican Day parade received by Oscar Lopez Rivera — the FALN terrorist released by President Obama. The teaching gig the Left arranged for her wasn’t quite as prestigious and long-lived as the ones her fellow Weathermen — and Obama pals — Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn fell into. She’ll never be a t-shirt icon, like Che Guevara or Tupac Shakur. The campaign to pretend she was innocent won’t rival the Alger Hiss fairy tale. There will probably be no statue of her, much less a performing-arts center like the one in Princeton named for Paul Robeson.
But she hates America, so she’ll be remembered fondly in the places where the cultural tune is called. Her books — such as An American Radical: A Political Prisoner in My Own Country — will continue to be taken oh so seriously. Her Wikipedia entry does not describe her as a terrorist; it says Susan Rosenberg is a “radical political activist, author and advocate for social justice.”
It has nothing to do with statues of the dead. It is about the status of the living.
You’re upset over President Trump’s idiotic remarks this week? Oh, right, I need to specify. Not the crackpot bit about General Pershing mass-murdering Muslim prisoners in the Philippines (well explained by David French, here). I mean the one about the “very fine people” in Charlottesville — the supposed “many” who joined neo-Nazis, KKK die-hards, and other white supremacists in a demonstration that could not have been more overtly racist and despicable.
Yeah, I’m upset about that, too.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t notice the anti-fa thugs were out there. It doesn’t mean I don’t see the hard Left’s seditionist shock troops, at war with the country, much like the Weathermen, the Panthers, and the Black Liberation Army back in the day. As we’ve seen many times now (and will, alas, see many times more), the radical Left doesn’t need tiki-torch twits to spur them to arson and mayhem.
This time, though, in Charlottesville, the white supremacists were the instigators. They caused it. They orchestrated this disgusting event, they came ready for the violence they knew they were provoking, and one of them committed a murder.
If the roles were reversed, we wouldn’t want to hear a bunch of imbecilic “there’s blame on both sides” moral equivalence. We’d want the most culpable bunch called out and condemned, by name — and without any irrational hedging about phantom “very fine people” who confederate with sociopaths on the latter’s terms.
Making that distinction does not mean you can’t or shouldn’t call out anti-fa, too. But a young woman died here. And she didn’t die because, fully aware she was courting danger, she got herself into a scrap. She was standing where she had a right to be standing, expressing what she had a right to express, when she was murdered by a depraved racist who plowed a car into her and other human beings. Anyone commenting on this ghastly event ought to be able to prioritize his righteous rage. Especially if that anyone happens to be the president of the United States.
Anyone commenting on this ghastly event ought to be able to prioritize his righteous rage. Especially if that anyone happens to be the president of the United States.
You have good reason to be upset that this president couldn’t meet that modest standard. If you’re on the political right, moreover, you may be even more upset by a poll that says two-thirds of Republicans actually approve of Trump’s response. They believe he ascribed blame accurately.
Well, he didn’t. Does that make the poll result irrational?
I don’t think so. It is not that two-thirds of the Right really think “very fine people” make common cause with the KKK. And it’s not that they really see two sides equally at fault. It is that, regardless of comparative fault, they know there were two sides out there. And they know the media has tried to obscure that fact. The poll is less indicative of settled belief than of gut reaction.
People are fed up. If you dare notice the radical Left, you are not an observer of objective fact, you are a neo-Nazi sympathizer. If you dare notice that many of the “peaceful protesters” were swinging batons and spraying chemicals, you need a re-education course in “unconscious racism.”
News about a radical leftist’s attempted mass murder of Republican House members that left Representative Steve Scalise on the brink of death faded quickly away — just a few days’ Kumbaya coverage along the lines of “Shaken Democrats joined Republicans in expressing outrage, etc., etc.” But on Thursday in Barcelona, when Muslim terrorists reverted to the car jihad they have been using quite notoriously for years, the media speculated that the terrorist killing of 13 people by careening a van along a crowded street might just be a Charlottesville “copycat” attack. You get it: Islamic terrorists are just like the Klan, are just like bourgeois Americans in the Age of Trump. Or, as they say in Virginia, “Allahu akbar, y’all.”
Don’t be sidetracked by the trendy debate over statues. Statuary is complicated. It is erected as much to signal the sentiments of the commissioners as to honor noteworthy lives. And it is built to last, so it stands even when sentiments change.
A great deal of Confederate iconography was not commissioned in remembrance of soldierly valor or mawkish depiction of genteel Dixie. It was crafted in defiant 20th-century resistance to the extension of equal rights, dignity, and opportunity to black people. Trump’s ill-informed meanderings about “culture” aside, many people taking offense at the statues have every reason to feel offended because, taken all in all, the reasons why they stand are at least as offensive as the images they convey.
Maybe if we grasp that, instead of getting hysterical over it, we can see why the loss of Robert E. Lee shouldn’t threaten Thomas Jefferson. The disappearance of an honorable soldier in a dishonorable cause is not a slippery-slope rationale for casting out the founder who grafted onto America’s soul the conceit that we are all created equal — a solemn declaration of far more enduring consequence than its author’s flaws. Pegging it at 4,500 probably exaggerates the number of Saxon pagans beheaded by Charles the Great at Verden, but to call the episode an atrocity is no exaggeration. Nor, however, has Charlemagne’s ruthlessness in battle been adjudged reason to remove his famous statue from the cathedral entrance at Notre Dame de Paris. Without him, there might have been no Europe, no Western culture as we know it, no development of the university, no magnificent cathedrals still standing.
It is a matter of perspective, of understanding changing times and our flawed nature. We can demand that our history not be erased and still realize that some of it is better recounted in book form than in stone or alloy. It should be left to the people most affected by evocative statuary to make that call.
What bothers many ordinary Americans is that there is far more uproar over a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville than over one of Vladimir Lenin in Seattle. What bothers us is that elite opinion’s determination to conceal the presence of anti-fa at last weekend’s bloody debacle — the better to smear the American Right with the alt-right — is just phase one. Inevitably, phases two and three will follow: The presence of leftist radicals is grudgingly admitted but rationalized as a necessary defense against monstrous evil; then, in time, their presence is venerated as exemplary courage against a monstrously evil society.
Donald Trump’s buffoonery is self-defeating, but there is shrewdness beneath it. He grasps, in a way the people who cover him don’t seem to, that much of the country is sick of being told the country sucks. There are racists and they should be condemned without equivocation. But their existence in ever smaller numbers does not mean we are living in AmeriKKKa, or that there is high virtue in anti-Americanism.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.