David Horowitz, a controversial writer and pundit known for his stridently right-wing and anti-Islamic rhetoric, is the director of the David Horowitz Freedom Center and editor of the conservative online journal FrontPageMagazine.com. An erstwhile leftist activist who edited the radical magazine Ramparts in the 1960s, Horowitz is one of a handful of public intellectuals—others include neoconservative trailblazers Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz—who migrated to the right in the years following the Vietnam War and the rise of the New Left.
In his bio on the Freedom Center website, Horowitz quotes Podhoretz's description of him: "[Horowitz] differs from some of the other 'second-thoughts' generation in having pulled no punches and in having broken more decisively than some of them with left-wing pieties—whether liberal or socialist. … David Horowitz is hated by the Left because he is not only an apostate but has been even more relentless and aggressive in attacking his former political allies than some of us who preceded him in what I once called 'breaking ranks' with that world. He has also taken the polemical and organizational techniques he learned in his days on the left, and figured out how to use them against the Left, whose vulnerabilities he knows in his bones."
Since the 9/11 attacks, Horowitz has gained attention as a leading member of a network of well-funded organizations and public figures who have helped drive so-called Islamophobic discourse in the United States. His acerbic anti-Muslim rhetoric frequently dovetails with one-sided support for the state of Israel and contempt for Palestinians. In a 2011 appearance at Brooklyn College, for example, Horowitz said, "No people has shown itself so morally sick as the Palestinians have. … Not only are they sick, nasty terrorists, but they're racists. They can't live alongside anybody who's not … Muslim." He added: "When you're surrounded by Nazis who want to blow up their own children to kill you, you need territory. You need space."
In a widely noted 2011 report about this network titled Fear Inc: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in the United States, the Center for American Progress (CAP) included Horowitz on a short-list of individuals who have been instrumental in demonizing Islam and generating fear about the purported existential threat this religion poses to the West. Others of his ilk, according to CAP, include Steven Emerson, Daniel Pipes, Frank Gaffney, Brigitte Gabriel, Pamela Geller, and Zuhdi Jasser.
After Fear Inc. was published in August 2011, Horowitz employed his characteristically inflated rhetoric to criticize CAP, saying that the liberal-leaning think tank had "joined the Muslim Brotherhood."
Horowitz frequently champions the idea that "Islamo-fascism" represents the next great evil confronting United States. In 2007, for example, Horowitz designated the week of October 22-26 as "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week" on U.S. college campuses in an effort to "break through the barrier of politically correct doublespeak that prevails on American campuses [and support those] who are fighting the Islamo-Fascists abroad."
Horowitz's Freedom Center (formerly the Center for the Study of Popular Culture) claims to combat "the efforts of the radical left and its Islamist allies to destroy American values and disarm this country as it attempts to defend itself in a time of terror. The leftist offensive is most obvious on our nation's campuses, where the Freedom Center protects students from indoctrination and political harassment. Combining forceful analysis and bold activism, the Freedom Center provides strong insight into today's most pressing issue on its family of websites and in the activist campaigns it wages on campus, in the news media, and in national politics throughout the year."
Fear Inc. indentified seven major donors that have been key financial bankers of the Islamophobic network:
- • Donors Capital Fund
- • Richard Mellon Scaife foundations
- • Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
- • Newton D. & Rochelle F. Becker foundations and charitable trust
- • Russell Berrie Foundation
- • Anchorage Charitable Fund and William Rosenwald Family Fund
- • Fairbrook Foundation
Based on tax records, CAP estimates that during the period 2001-2009 these foundations collectively (though not including Russell Berrie) donated nearly $8.5 million to the Freedom Center. The top donors were the Scaife Foundations ($3,400,000) and the Bradley Foundation ($4,250,000).
Trajectory and History
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Horowitz studied at Columbia University and University of California-Berkeley, where he became an outspoken proponent of radical Marxism and the "New Left." After a period in the 1960s serving as Bertrand Russell's political aid, Horowitz wrote several books, including The Free World Colossus: A Critique of American Foreign Policy in the Cold War, which attempted to examine the origin of the Cold War and define the conflict through the lens of the New Left.
Horowitz's political and social beliefs began to change in 1974, after Horowitz's friend Betty Van Patter, a bookkeeper for the Black Panthers, was killed. Horowitz had lent support and legal assistance to Black Panther leader Huey P. Newton and had recruited Van Patter for the bookkeeping job. Although the case remains unsolved, Horowitz contends that she was killed by the Panthers to prevent her from disclosing financial corruption.
The mid-1970s also brought the U.S. defeat in Vietnam and the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, both of which disillusioned Horowitz with what he regarded as the left's disinterest in human rights and unquestioning attitude toward communist regimes. Horowitz "came out" as a member of the right in the 1980s with the "Second Thought" project, a joint endeavor with Peter Collier that culminated in a 1987 conference in Washington, DC and a coauthored book, Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts about the Sixties (1989). Horowitz's shift to the right and his reflections on the left were documented again in his 1996 book Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey.
By the late 1980s, Horowitz and Collier were being feted by Republican Party elites. In 1988 they reportedly wrote speeches for Bob Dole and dined with Ronald Reagan, William Bennett, and Newt Gingrich.
Horowitz eventually set his targets on what he perceived as the left-leaning bias of baby-boomer academics and the supposed discrimination faced by conservative students at the university level. His soapbox was the now-defunct magazine Heterodoxy, which he founded in 1992 with Collier.
In a 2005 launch of the Heterodoxyarchive on FrontPageMag.com, Collier wrote: "It could have been an intellectual journal. But it occurred to us that those of us who opposed this new treason of the clerks were in a position similar to the one we had been in [during] the early 60s—a counter culture fighting against an establishment. (Except that in the historical turning of the tables this ruling elite was now leftist with a deconstructive agenda.) And our publication should therefore resemble the counter cultural underground papers of our wicked youth—irreverent and provocative and willing to enter the house of power and rearrange its furniture."
Horowitz has continued to focus his right-wing advocacy efforts on academia and on what he perceives as the imposition of liberal ideas on students. One early effort was his site Discover the Networks, which was inspired by the launching of Daniel Pipes' Campus Watch in 2002, which "monitors" academics who are critical of Israel.
The publication of Horowitz's 2006 book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, caused a commotion in academia when it purported to reveal the "most dangerous" professors on U.S. campuses, with danger apparently referring to liberal or nonconservative academics.
In a scathing review published in the American Association of University Professors' (AAUP) journal Academe, AAUP President Cary Nelson wrote: "The well-funded industry that is David Horowitz would like the book's biased, shoddy imitation of scholarship to enter the national consciousness as doxa. ... Like right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh on the air or right-wing cultural critic Ann Coulter in print, Horowitz preaches to the converted. They come to have their convictions not only reinforced but applauded. Horowitz is the claque, celebrating those who agree with him. That said, The Professors is certainly one of the most depressing books I have ever tried to read. That such unbridled malice toward progressive faculty exists in the world is depressing enough, but the shallow, casual, purely opportunistic character of what it offers as scholarship may be still more disheartening."
Apparently in reaction to the publication of The Professors, several groups came together to form the Free Exchange on Campus, "to protect the free exchange of speech and ideas on campus." Comprised of well-respected entities such as the ACLU, the AAUP, the American Library Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and others, the coalition released a press release condemning Horowitz's book, criticizing it on several levels. One example: "University of Illinois communications professor Robert McChesney, whose students have selected him as an award-winning instructor, comes under attack by Horowitz for raising questions about the news media, its corporate ownership, and what effect that has on news coverage.
"Said McChesney, 'They used two quotations from my two decade-long career as a teacher as evidence that I somehow use the classroom as a bully pulpit to push liberal causes. This is as illogical as taking two paragraphs from a conservative faculty member and concluding that they propagandize exclusively for conservative ideologies.'"
Another of Horowitz's high-profile efforts has been the so-called Academic Bill of Rights. The "bill" is a project of Students for Academic Freedom (motto: "You can't get a good education if they're only telling you half the story"), which was founded by Horowitz and is affiliated with the David Horowitz Freedom Center. "The bill's purposes are to codify that tradition; to emphasize the value of 'intellectual diversity,' already implicit in the concept of academic freedom; and, most important, to enumerate the rights of students to not be indoctrinated or otherwise assaulted by political propagandists in the classroom or any educational setting," Horowitz wrote.
The Freedom Center publishes the ezine FrontPageMag.com, which serves as a forum for Horowitz and a host of other stridently rightist writers, including columnist Ann Coulter. Horowitz, editor-in-chief of the site, often posts on site's blog, praising such things as Sen. Joe Lieberman's (I-CT) defense of the Iraq War and calling President Jimmy Carter a "well-paid shill for the Saudis and rationalizer of Islamic Jew-hatred."
On the blog Crooked Timber, George Washington University political science professor Henry Farrell characterized Horowitz's work thusly: "[Horowitz's] main line of attack is that of the standard political hack, concocting a farrago of innuendoes, half-truths, and out-and-out lies in order to beat down those whom he sees as his political opponents. However, when he's attacked in the same terms as those he himself engages in, he's perfectly happy to appeal to academic norms of reasoned debate in order to accuse his accusers of themselves being politicized." Farrell added: "Because Horowitz is able to use the low standards of political debate, while demanding that his intellectual opponents adhere to the high ones of academic argument, he wins either way. In order successfully to argue against him, it's necessary to recognize that the battle Horowitz is fighting is political rather than strictly academic. He's not acting as an academic interlocutor (some conservatives and other critics are, and they should be treated very differently). He's acting as a politician and looking to win political changes outside the academy that would radically reshape its internal practices."
In March 2007, Horowitz's published Indoctrination U: The Left's War Against Academic Freedom. FrontPageMag.com reported: "Horowitz unveils the intellectual corruption of our universities by faculty activists who have turned their classrooms into platforms for radical political causes. He shows how tenured radicals with little regard for professional standards or the pluralistic foundations of American society have created an ideological curriculum that subverts the purposes of a democratic education."
But others had a different take. "Indoctrination U is essentially a rehash of Horowitz's career in right-wing activism, calling out all the supposedly politically correct zealots who have wronged him since his conversion from radical left to hard right in the 1980s. Horowitz's ability to co-opt the language of oppression and turn a supposedly theoretical manifesto into his personal soapbox would put even the most emo slam poet on your campus to shame," wrote reviewer Amy Schiller.
"War on Terror"
Horowitz was a vocal supported of the George W. Bush administration post-9/11 "war on terror," including the decision to invade Iraq.
Wrote Horowitz wrote on FrontPageMag.com in April 2003: "Baghdad is liberated. In the days to come let us not forget that if it were not for one man, and one man alone—George Bush—the people of Iraq would not be celebrating in the streets and pulling down Saddam's statues today. ... We have entered the era of a new civil war between the forces of freedom and the powers of Islamo-fascist and communist darkness, and once again the left is clearly determined to take its stand on the other side. The good news is that America is back. Our military has performed superlatively. Our leadership has stood tall. We ourselves can celebrate over this and look confidently toward what lies ahead."
In June 2006, Horowitz signed an open letter to President George W. Bush along with numerous other conservative figures that encouraged the "enforcement first" approach to immigration. "We are in the middle of a global war on terror. 2006 is not 1986. Today, we need proof that enforcement (both at the border and in the interior) is successful before anything else happens. As Ronald Reagan used to say 'trust, but verify,'" the letter stated. Organized by the Hudson Institute, the letter was signed by Bennett, Gingrich, Robert Bork, Daniel Pipes, David Frum, Frank Gaffney, Fred Iklé, and Phyllis Schlafly, among many others.
During the period 1976-1994, Horowitz and coauthor Collier published a number of well-received biographies about dynastic families in the United States. According to a Salon.com profile of Horowitz: "In the 1970s, dissatisfied with the tragic consequences of radical politics in America and abroad, Horowitz withdrew from politics. He and his partner Peter Collier then co-authored a series of bestselling biographies of prominent American families: 'The Rockefellers: An American Dynasty' (1976), 'The Kennedys: An American Drama' (1985), 'The Fords: An American Epic' (1987) and 'The Roosevelts: An American Saga' (1994). For these works, the Los Angeles Times called Horowitz and Collier 'the premier chroniclers of American dynastic tragedy.' In 1978 Horowitz was honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship, and in 1990 he received the Teach Freedom Award from former President Ronald Regan."