Who Were Those Guys Behind the Curtain?

Saturday afternoon’s mass anti-war rally in front of the White House was big news in the papers the next day. The Washington Post carried it as the off-lead, while the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times gave it significant, albeit inside, play. And rightly so, for a protest that drew 150,000 to 300,000 protestors and was the latest manifestation of increasing popular dissatisfaction with how things are looking these days in Iraq. (Plus, how could you miss the chance to highlight such slogans as “Make Levees, Not War,” “I never thought I’d miss Nixon” and “Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam.”)

But for all the colorful detail from the march and the rally that preceded it, there was a bit of information left out: the Fringe Left background of the behind-the-scenes organizers.

As any hostile (or sympathetic) observer of the protests that have proliferated since 9/11 and the Iraq invasion knows, these events turn into dumping grounds for a motley amalgamation of leftist causes, from those supporting Castro’s Cuba to those claiming that Israel — or the Zionist entity, as it is known in certain circles — is a fascist, colonialist regime.

Why is this? After all, it doesn’t have to be that way. The organizers of a march do have some control over its message. These are questions the Timeses and Post didn’t raise and haven’t raised. But it’s worth understanding who the leaders of any purported mass movement are. And in this case, it’s especially important, since one of the two main organizers, the International A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) coalition has some pretty shady roots.

The leading group in A.N.S.W.E.R.’s coalition is called the International Action Center, led by former Attorney General turned far-left activist, Ramsey Clark. This group, in turn, is integrally connected to (some would say a front for) the World Workers Party. And here things get a little wacky.

The World Workers Party was started as an offshoot of the Communist party in the late 1950s, and it supported not only Mao’s Cultural Revolution but also the Soviet repression of Hungary. Basically a bunch of Neo-Stalinists, it has continued to revere that Soviet dictator, in spite of his murderous purges, has supported North Korea, and has praised a whole series of dictators who ran ostensibly socialist regimes, from Saddam Hussein to Slobodan Milosevic.

The LA Weekly took a look at the World Workers Party in 2002. Here’s what it had to say about the strange role this extremist group has taken in guiding the anti-war movement from behind a curtain: “The WWP does have the shock troops and talent needed to construct a quasi-mass demonstration. But the bodies have to come from elsewhere. So WWPers create fronts and trim their message, and anti-war Americans, who presumably don’t share WWP sentiments, have an opportunity to assemble and register their stand against the war. At the same time, WWP activists, hiding their true colors, gain a forum where thousands of people listen to their exhortations.”

There is no reason to avoid this information.

Surely the background of this group is something the more prominent speakers at the rally and march, like Jesse Jackson and Ralph Nader, were aware of before taking the stage.

It should have been made clear to readers of more than just the LA Weekly that though most of the people attending the march are doing so out of a fundamental unease with the situation in Iraq — a sentiment that polls tell us is increasing — the organizers of the event have goals that are much, much further outside the mainstream.

Gal Beckerman

Amendment: This post has been corrected to acknowledge that A.N.S.W.E.R. was one of two organizers of Saturday’s protest, and not the “main organizer” as the post previously stated.

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Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.