Selected Highlights of the Rightwing Attack on Frances Fox Piven (v.4)

January 31, 2011

Lori Minnite

This is not a comprehensive guide to the rightwing political attack on Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward.  There are thousands and thousands of hostile blog postings, reader comments, articles, etc. on the Internet that collectively reflect the effectiveness of this attack.  And keep in mind, there is a much longer back-story.  It begins in the beginning, in the 1960s, and was and is significantly shaped by people who started out on the left (i.e., David Horowitz, Ron Radosh, Fred Siegel, Jim Sleeper).

First, for a good summary of what’s been going on over the last year, see two stories by Peter Dreier in the Huffington Post.  The first, “The Right’s Conspiracy Theory Attack on Frances Fox Piven,” appeared, March 23, 2010.  Not all the links still work, but check out WorldnetDaily editor Joseph Farah’s diatribe against the so-called “Cloward-Piven Strategy” at the February 2010 Tea Party convention in Nashville. The second piece, “Glenn Beck’s Attacks on Frances Fox Piven Trigger Death Threats,” appeared January 23, 2011, and brings the story up-to-date.

If there is any question about Piven being targeted by Tea Party activists, see this video of Kyle Olson trashing teachers’ and public employees’ unions at a Lansing, Michigan Tea Party rally on April 15, 2010, sponsored by David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity.  Olson is the young man who last year deliberately lied to Piven about his identity, claiming to be a college student who had read one of her books and wanted to interview her for a term paper.  She welcomed him into her home while she was recuperating from a car accident – she was alone - he filmed the interview under false pretenses, and then posted snippets along with mocking and hostile commentary on Andrew Breitbart’s website, (see Olson’s postings on February 8thFebruary 9th, and February 10th, 2010).  Despite Peter Dreier’s exposure of Olson as a fraud, he continues to attack, harass and mock Piven in his online postings (Olson posted attacks on Piven on Breitbart’s site on April 2, April 28, and September 21, 2010).  The Olson story is detailed in the 2010 Huffington Post article by Dreier cited above. 

The current rightwing political attack on Piven is easily traced to David Horowitz, who details what he presents as the nefarious origins of the “Cloward-Piven Strategy” in his 2006 book, written with Richard Poe, The Shadow Party: How George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Sixties Radicals Seized Control of the Democratic Party.  Don’t waste your money buying the book, you can get a good sense of the arc of the myth by searching the book on Amazon (use “piven” as the search term).  Horowitz offers warmed-over old news, and for most of the last six years, the far Right has only repeated the story over and over again, adding nothing to the myth of the Sixties radicals “collapsing” the system, and paying almost no attention to anything else written by Piven and Cloward.  According to Jim Sleeper, he is the source for Horowitz’s fable about Piven and Cloward bringing New York City to its knees in the 1970s.  The hysteria over the “Cloward-Piven Strategy for Orchestrated Crisis” is evident in the more than 200,000 hits for “cloward-piven” on Google.

In other words, the propagandists created a myth and forgot that the central character was alive and well.  That changed with Piven’s January 10/17, 2011 Nation article, “Mobilizing the Jobless,” which outlined the obstacles to organizing the unemployed. 

On December 30, 2010, Ron Radosh posted “The Second Time is Farce: Frances Fox Piven Calls for a new Cloward-Piven Strategy for Today” at the Pajamas Media blog.  Radosh’s piece ignited another firestorm of anger and hatred toward Piven.  But this time, the fire is being fanned by a vast and growing base of admirers of Glenn Beck who over the last several years have been indoctrinated by him into believing in the inherent (“Communist”) evil of “Cloward-Piven.”  According to Dreier, over the course of the last two years, Beck has mentioned Piven and Cloward on his Fox News show about 50 times.  

Piven and Cloward have long been attacked politically as ideologues working for “system collapse,” such as when Jim Sleeper in his 1990 book, The Closest of Strangers, argued that they promoted racial polarization and a “radical extension of welfare” in the late 1960’s that ultimately “routed” New York City’s “unique civic culture.”  It is important to note that the current escalation of the assault on Piven by Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes’ Fox News coincides with the election of the nation’s first African American president, the collapse of the housing market, and a brutal recession – all of which have been blamed on Piven and her putative strategy for “orchestrated crisis.”  In the acid, vitriolic political environment of the last two years, with people really going off the rails in blind rage and anger at the government, the rhetoric against Piven has now turned deadly.

Radosh’s blog got the attention of Jonathon Siedl, an editor of Glenn Beck’s phony news website, The Blaze.  This article is titled, “Frances Fox Piven Rings in The New Year By Calling for Violent Revolution.”  The appendix contains a selection of comments posted to this one story that discuss the various ways Piven should die or be killed.  It was this compendium of recent threats and a January 20, 2010 letter to Roger Ailes from the Center of Constitutional Rights on behalf of Piven demanding that he intervene to stop Beck’s misinformation campaign that brought media attention to Piven’s story.  The appendix also was provided to state and federal law enforcement authorities to ensure Piven’s safety and determine whether crimes have been committed.  Since CCR’s letter, some of the more graphic threats and comments have been removed from Beck’s website.

But the rightwing echo chamber hasn’t stopped reverberating and instead, after the January 8, 2011, massacre in Tucson, the campaign against Piven has only ratcheted up violent rhetoric.  Piven herself is now routinely referred to as an “advocate of violence,” and an “enemy of the Constitution.”  For example, Matthew Vadum, an acolyte of Horowitz and chief propagandist in the recent rightwing political campaign to destroy the community organization ACORN, is a frequent promoter of hate toward Piven.  Vadum claims he first brought Piven and Cloward to the attention of Glenn Beck (see the video Vadum uploaded to Youtube of his performance on Glenn Beck’s May 13, 2009 television show at).  His most recent contribution accuses Piven of trying to “[murder] America’s constitutional legacy of limited government,” of “[generating] chaos,” and “[inflicting] a lot of damage on the nation.”

In fact, at least one blogger has blamed the Tucson massacre on Piven.  The day after the shootings, in a blog entry title, “Liberals Predictably ‘Alinsky’ the Giffords Shooting,” Angry White Dude wrote, “The blame for yesterday’s violence should be placed at the feet of Frances Fox Piven and not Sarah Palin.”

And Glenn Beck is now escalating his campaign of misinformation, exhorting his followers to take a pledge to denounce “violent threats and calls for the destruction of our system – regardless of their underlying ideology – whether they come from the Hutaree Militia or Frances Fox Piven.” On his January 17, 2011 show he called Piven an “enemy of the Constitution” and equated her call for a new social movement to organize the unemployed with “terrorism.”

Anti-Semitism has not been a strong theme in the hate-filled vitriol directed at Piven.  Perhaps Beck and his audience do not know that Piven is Jewish.  Perhaps people like Horowitz and Radosh who are also Jewish, do not have the inclination to turn to Anti-Semitism to smear her or whip up the mob against her.   On the other hand, on his January 14, 2011 show, Beck listed ten people who he said were major contributors to the 20th century “era of the big lie.”  Nine of these people, including Frances Fox Piven (for “sowing the seeds of revolution”) are Jewish.  See this MediaMatters report.

Nevertheless, I’ve found at least one Anti-Semitic diatribe invoking “Cloward-Piven” titled, “The New Weimar Republic,” and posted by “Joy” on July 25, 2009, on a website called Sojourner of the Cesspit:

“At the dawn of the “civil rights” move­ment, and just before the so-called “Sex­ual Rev­o­lu­tion” of the 1960’s, the Jew Alan Gins­burg wrote a col­lec­tion of so-called poetry which was greatly lauded by all of the Jew­ish media and acad­e­mia. It con­tains mate­r­ial such as: “I’m with you Rock­land where you accuse your doc­tors of insan­ity and plot the Hebrew social­ist rev­o­lu­tion against the fas­cist national Gol­go­tha” (from Howl). What garbage is praised by the Jews as art! To Gins­burg, Chris­tian­ity (“Gol­go­tha”) and nation­al­ism are both evil, and these are what he is rail­ing against. A gen­er­a­tion of Jews fol­lowed suit, and the Jew­ish media has praised all of them glow­ingly ever since, openly wor­ship­ping dev­ils while the aver­age Amer­i­can stares blindly at the tele­vi­sion screen, get­ting his daily dose of “enter­tain­ment”. While Gins­burg may appeal to the basest sorts in soci­ety, this same men­tal­ity exists through­out acad­e­mia. For instance: “Barack Obama is Destroy­ing Our Econ­omy on Pur­pose … A pair of rad­i­cal Colum­bia Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sors by the name of Richard Andrew Cloward and Frances Fox Piven wrote an arti­cle in the rad­i­cal mag­a­zine known as The Nation. The arti­cle was pub­lished on May 2, 1966 and laid out what is now known as the ‘Cloward-Piven Strat­egy’. The plan calls for the destruc­tion of cap­i­tal­ism in Amer­ica by swelling the wel­fare rolls to the point of col­laps­ing our econ­omy and then imple­ment­ing social­ism by nation­al­iz­ing many pri­vate insti­tu­tions. Cloward and Piven stud­ied Saul Alin­sky just like Hillary Clin­ton and … Obama” (Quoted from It should be quite evi­dent why ever since the “Great Soci­ety” speech given by Lyn­don John­son, this nation has sunk deeper and deeper into social­ism, which is noth­ing but a euphemism for Marx­ism. These early state­ments, and the fact that this nation has obvi­ously fol­lowed this path laid out by so many Jews, makes it no coin­ci­dence why we have done so.”

Beck’s Anti-Semitism is now receiving attention from the mainstream media (see Dana Milbank, “Glenn Beck vs. the Rabbis” in the Washington Post, January 28, 2011) and Jewish religious leaders from across the political spectrum.

Appendix: Comments on The Blaze, "Frances Fox Piven Rings In the New Year ByCalling for Violent Revolution," December 31, 2010; accessed by Lori Minnite, January 20, 2011 (pdf)?