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Why is Glenn Beck Obsessively Targeting Frances Fox Piven?

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For more than a year, Fox News host Glenn Beck has been increasingly targeting Frances Fox Piven, a 78-year-old distinguished professor of political science and sociology at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Beck has repeatedly accused her of advocating violence and of hatching a plan in 1966 to overthrow the system. Piven joins us in our studio. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Activists protested outside the offices of News Corporation Thursday calling for Rupert Murdoch to remove Glenn Beck from the airwaves of Fox News. The organization Jewish Funds for Justice accused Beck of, quote, “unchecked hate mongering and public incitement.” Activists attempted to deliver a petition signed by 10,000 people calling for Beck’s show to be canceled. Simon Greer is the head of Jewish Funds for Justice.

SIMON GREER: In light of what happened on Saturday, the number one worst moment from Glenn Beck rose to the top when he said, “God will wash this nation with blood if He has to.” And once again, I’m not saying that Glenn Beck pulled the trigger on Saturday, but if you present this kind of rhetoric and you warn us that “God will wash this nation in blood if He has to,” you’re creating a climate in which terrible tragic violence is likely to take place. It is for these 10 reasons and countless others that we have come to News Corp. headquarters today to deliver a petition signed by 10,000 members of our community and a pink slip calling for Mr. Beck’s termination and asking Joel Cheatwood, Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch to be good to their word.

JUAN GONZALEZ: While cable TV shows like Glenn Beck’s are coming under increasing scrutiny in the wake of the Arizona shooting, Glenn Beck is pushing back against critics by increasingly targeting a 78-year-old professor named Frances Fox Piven. Beck has repeatedly accused her of advocating violence and of hatching a plan in 1966 to overthrow the system.

Here is what Beck said on his radio show days after the shooting in Arizona.

GLENN BECK: Are there and is there anybody calling for violence? Yes. Who are they? Well, show me the evidence that it’s Rush Limbaugh. Show me the evidence that it is Sarah Palin. You go ahead and stack up that evidence that doesn’t exist, and I will stack up the evidence against Frances Fox Piven.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Earlier this week, Glenn Beck called on congressional lawmakers to sign a pledge in which he denounces violence from all quarters but, in doing so, compares Piven to well-armed right-wing militia whose members stand accused of plotting the violent overthrow of the U.S. government.

GLENN BECK: I denounce violence, regardless of ideological motivation. Have I lost you yet? Do you need your attorney? I denounce anyone from the left, the right or the middle who believes physical violence is the answer to whatever they feel is wrong with our country. I know it’s getting dicey. Next, I denounce those who wish to tear down our system and rebuild it in their own image, whatever image that may be. Oh, it’s so controversial! I denounce those from the left, the right or the middle who call for riots and violence as an opportunity to bring down and reconstruct our system. That’s a trick there, because that sounds almost like the last one. You sensing the trap yet? Yeah, me neither. I 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.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Beck has also blamed the financial crisis on Frances Fox Piven and claims she’s part of a leftist conspiracy that dates back to Woodrow Wilson.

GLENN BECK: Let me introduce you to the people who you would say are fundamentally responsible for the unsustainability and possible collapse of our economic system. There are really two people, I’ve been telling you for a while. There they are: Cloward and Piven, Richard Cloward, Frances Fox Piven. They are authors of the Cloward-Piven strategy. Something else to remember is that this isn’t some conspiracy theory that we’re tossing out here. They wrote about collapsing the economy and how they plan to do it in an article they co-authored in the 1960s, “Mobilizing the Poor: How It Could be Done?” six months later published in The Nation under the title “The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty.”

Well, what is this strategy, and who’s involved? Well, do you remember on this program over the summer the tree? Watch this. The roots of the tree of radicalism and revolution. It’s Saul Alinsky. It’s Woodrow Wilson. That’s how it’s all made legitimate. It’s progressive. Here are the roots. Here’s SDS. This is for that democratic society. Cloward and Piven come in and say, “Wait a minute. Hang on just a second. What we should do is collapse the system on its own weight.” Cloward and Piven. They’re using the same tactics — fear and intimidation — of SDS. Cloward, Piven: overwhelm the system. And look who the President has: Wade Rathke, right up the tree, Dale, right up the tree, Bill Ayers, right up the tree, Jeff Jones, right up the tree!

AMY GOODMAN: To respond to Glenn Beck’s attacks, we’re joined here in the studio by Frances Fox Piven herself. Richard Cloward was her late husband. Frances Fox Piven is a professor of political science and sociology at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. She’s the author, most recently, of Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor Piven.

FRANCES FOX PIVEN: Glad to talk to you again, Amy and Juan. Glad to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: This has been going on for, what? More than a year now, this targeting.

FRANCES FOX PIVEN: Well, a couple of years, but I think it started before I was aware of it. I don’t actually listen to Glenn Beck. And I only became aware of it when I was interviewed by a couple of people pretending to be students and working on a term paper. I let them come to my home, and they interviewed me.

AMY GOODMAN: Who did they say they were?

FRANCES FOX PIVEN: Students at Western State Michigan University. They said they had been assigned Challenging Authority, and that to do their term paper, they wanted to do a video, which, you know, I’m sort of used to. Students are always looking for ways to do a term paper without reading anything. So, I had been in an automobile accident, so I asked them to come to my home, if they wanted to. I said they could have an hour. And a couple of days later, the clips from the interview were up on the Andy Breitbart blog, a right-wing blog. So then a friend of mine googled this person, the lead person, and he was a right-wing operative in Michigan running a little organization devoted to attacking the teachers’ union in Michigan.

AMY GOODMAN: Who had been in your home.


AMY GOODMAN: Who had been in your home.

FRANCES FOX PIVEN: Yes. And after that, I got maybe five or six requests by students for interviews, students I didn’t know. And then I googled each one, and they were none of them students. So it was just an idea that was going around in right-wing networks. And then, all of a sudden, I became aware of both the Glenn Beck shows and the other right-wing blogs and all the postings that were coming in from people who — you know, confused, angry, whatever, and thought that I was the source of all the problems that had overtaken the United States in the last 30 or 40 years.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Frances, this is really amazing, because here you have been involved in writing and analyzing the American society now for more than 40 years, and you’ve never gotten as much attention on television as suddenly you’ve gotten in the last few years by Glenn Beck. And do you have any sense of what triggered this sudden decision of him, who actually, being only been 46 years old, was just a baby when you and Richard Cloward first began writing about the welfare rights movement?


JUAN GONZALEZ: What would trigger him to suddenly zero in on you?

FRANCES FOX PIVEN: Well, I think that there’s a certain amount of just accident that he picked me or picked Richard and me, partly accident, partly not so accidental, because there were at the time, in the late 1960s, early 1970s, there were a number of people who had moved from being on the left, further to the left than me, who were moving to the right, where the pay is better. And in making that move, they sort of took with them their familiarity with the work that we had done and then exaggerated, demonized it. You know, I think that —

JUAN GONZALEZ: And who were some of those people?

FRANCES FOX PIVEN: Well, it includes David Horowitz, Fred Siegel, Jim Sleeper, Ron Radosh, who recently headlined his blog “The Second Time is Farce: Piven Calls for Violent and Bloody Revolution.” That was just a few days ago, because I had written a little article in The Nation talking about the problems in organizing the unemployed, so the unemployed can have an impact, a voice, in American politics. But most of the article was about how hard it is to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Piven, Glenn Beck has also put forward a theory that you directly inspired the politics of President Obama. On his show, Beck recently aired an extended interview with Stanley Kurtz, author of the book Radical-in-Chief, that claims Obama’s a secret socialist.

STANLEY KURTZ: We know that Obama, for example, attended a very important socialist scholars conference at the Cooper Union in New York in 1983. That conference was addressed by Frances Fox Piven in its opening plenary. He would have heard her again in 1984. If he had attended the conference in 1985, which he quite possibly did, Piven would have been there. So, Obama would have had many, many opportunities to learn about Cloward and Piven and their theories. On the one hand, we know that Obama has immensely increased the American welfare state, immensely increased American entitlements through, of course, the healthcare legislation.

Now, I don’t believe that the Obama administration is aiming to create a financial and economic crisis right now. Obama doesn’t want to create an economic crisis on his own watch, because he would be held responsible. He would be politically punished. But I do think that Obama is flirting with a fiscal crisis in order to stampede the country toward a larger welfare state, in order to expand taxation, perhaps through a value-added tax, as we see in Europe. He’s walking a fine line.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Stanley Kurtz on Glenn Beck’s show, author the book Radical-in-Chief. Frances Fox Piven, your response?

FRANCES FOX PIVEN: Well, that’s nutty. It really is. I regard Barack Obama as a centrist, a person who has been trying very hard to find common ground between the right and the Democratic Party. In many ways, I think that he has disappointed his own followers in that process. This is — it’s bizarre. It’s as bizarre as Glenn Beck saying that the contemporary left owes its — that one of its ancestors is Woodrow Wilson, another — an important president of the United States and one who was a very mild reformer.

I think it’s also crazy to call me a commie, a socialist, a revolutionary or whatever. I think I’m a democrat. I think that all of my work has been devoted to remedying the flaws, the distortions in American democracy. If you go back to the first project that I worked on politically, which is what the — it’s where the article comes from about the — which they call a conspiracy to crash America. That article didn’t call for crashing anything, except the existing welfare system. It proposed that people on the left help poor people in the cities get their full benefits from welfare. Now, at the time, welfare was denying benefits to over half of the people that were eligible. It’s doing that again now. But the article helped inspire — it helped inspire an effort by poor people, many of them people of color, in the cities to get the benefits that they were entitled to from welfare. Now, you can disagree with that effort, but it’s not crashing the system.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, in fact, I remember, because I think I told you earlier in the show, in the summer of 1967, I took a course with Richard Cloward when I was a college undergraduate, where he had just — was expounding this theory. And he saw it more — both of you saw it more as a means to achieve, what, a guaranteed national income for Americans and really as a means to begin having more income — less income inequality in the country, not as a — I don’t remember it all, and in rereading the article, it wasn’t espousing any armed overthrow of the government. It was just saying this is a way that the poor can begin to be felt in American society. It seems to me that the bigger impact of your work, even more than that, was the book that you and Richard wrote, Why Americans Don’t Vote, which really laid bare the class composition of the American electorate and urged voter registration in a massive way, led, I think, to the motor voter laws in many states, where governments began to actively register people to vote. Maybe that was the fear, that Beck and his — I guess his tutors have, that you were able to really influence the ability of more of the poor to get registered to vote and to participate in the electoral process.

FRANCES FOX PIVEN: Which is, of course, a democratic principle. Democracy rests on inclusive participation and inclusive voting by an entire population. And so, it’s so strange, really, that efforts of this kind can be characterized as violent and bloody revolution.

AMY GOODMAN: On December 31st, Glenn Beck’s website, “The Blaze,” published an article titled “Frances Fox Piven Rings in the New Year by Calling for Violent Revolution.” In response to that article, several readers posted direct death threats to Piven. A user named JST1425 wrote, quote, “be very careful what you ask for honey… As I mentioned in previous posts…ONE SHOT…ONE KILL! 'We The People' will need to stand up for what is right…a few well placed marksmen with high powered rifles…then there would not be any violence,” unquote.

User name SUPERWRENCH4 wrote, quote, “Somebody tell Frances I have 5000 roundas sic ready and I’ll give My life to take Our freedom back. Taking Her life and any who would enslave My children and grandchildren and call for violence should meet their demise as They wish. George Washington didn’t use His freedom of speech to defeat the British, He shot them,” unquote.

Another reader wrote on Glenn Beck’s website, quote, “We should blowup Piven’s office and home. And while at it. Keel haul Bernardine Dohrn under one of her freedom ships and blow up Bill Ayers’ house cars and anywhere he can be found,” unquote.

And a user who goes by the name GREEN_MANALISHI wrote, quote, “I’m all for violence and change Francis, where do your loved ones live?” unquote.

Despite the overt threats, Glenn Beck has not removed any of the messages from his site, even though readers of “The Blaze” are encouraged to highlight troublesome posts.

Now, I want ask you, Frances Fox Piven, about the case of Byron Williams. He’s the California man who admitted it was Fox News host Glenn Beck who inspired him to plot the assassination of employees of the ACLU and the Tides Foundation. Byron Williams was arrested last July after he opened fire on California Highway Patrol officers. The shootout occurred as Williams was driving to the headquarters of the Tides Foundation in San Francisco. The case received little national attention. The media watchdog group Media Matters released audio from a jailhouse interview in which Williams talked about Beck’s influence.

BYRON WILLIAMS: I would have never started watching Fox News if it wasn’t for the fact that Beck was on there. And it was the things that he did, it was the things he exposed, that blew my mind. I said, “Well, nobody does this.” Beck will never say anything about a conspiracy, will never advocate violence. He’ll never do anything of this nature. But he’ll give you every ounce of evidence that you could possibly need. Go look at all the stuff that you’ll find. I would suggest you go back and see, try to find the videos about — all the June videos.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That jailhouse interview was conducted — with Byron Williams, was conducted by John Hamilton from Media Matters. I spoke to John in October, and he played for us more excerpts of Byron Williams.

JOHN HAMILTON: I think this is one of the most important points, that, no, Glenn Beck doesn’t advocate explicitly for violence, but in Byron Williams’s mind, Glenn Beck gives you every ounce of evidence that you could possibly need.

BYRON WILLIAMS: You know, I’ll tell you. Beck is going to deny everything about violent approach, deny everything about conspiracies, but he’ll give you every reason to believe in it. He is protecting himself, and you can’t blame him for that. So, I understand what he’s doing.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Byron Williams, recorded by you in the Santa Rita Jail. Go on with what he’s saying.

JOHN HAMILTON: I think Dana Milbank of the Washington Post put it best. He has a compendium of Glenn Beck quotes. Here is some of the rhetoric that you’ll hear on Glenn Beck’s radio program or see on his TV show: “The war is just beginning,” “Shoot me in the head if they try to change our government,” “You have to be prepared to take rocks to the head,” “The other side is attacking,” “There is a coup going on,” “Grab a torch,” “Drive a stake through the heart of the bloodsuckers,” “They are taking you to a place to be slaughtered.” I mean, these are quotes, and I could go on. I mean, there’s any number of these from Glenn Beck.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of Glenn Beck and violence and the other things that he has said or the images of pouring gasoline on someone on the show?

JOHN HAMILTON: Right. Well, we titled the piece “Progressive Hunter,” and that’s taken from a line that Glenn Beck used on one of his programs. And he said, “’Til the day I die, I’m going to be a progressive hunter.” He said he was going to be like “the Israeli Nazi hunters.” “I’m going to find these big progressives, and 'til the day I die, I’m going to be a progressive hunter. I'm going to find these people that have done this to our country and expose them.”

Now, he says he’s going to expose them. He’s not advocating violence. But when you liken liberals and progressives in America to Nazis and saying you’re going after them like an Israeli Nazi hunter, when you raise your level of rhetoric to that point, and you have an audience like Byron — people like Byron Williams are watching this — it’s unsurprising that we get these incidents.

AMY GOODMAN: That was John Hamilton. He had done the interview with Byron Williams in the jail.

Professor Frances Fox Piven, you are raised continually by Glenn Beck, this week, a number of times since the shooting. These death threats are on his website, “The Blaze.” Your address is online. Your picture, he puts up all the time. Are you afraid right now?

FRANCES FOX PIVEN: I’m certainly unnerved, uneasy. “Afraid,” I think, is a little bit too strong because, you know, I feel relatively surrounded by friends and benign people. But, yeah, I’m unnerved. And people should not have to — there’s no place for this kind of verbal violence and verbal intimidation in a society, particularly when we have a number of instances where what were verbal and rhetorical abuses became real.

AMY GOODMAN: Interestingly, there are divisions in the right. I want to turn to a final clip, and that is of Joe Scarborough, the co-host of the MSNBC show Morning Joe. He’s a former Republican congressman from Florida.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: I have a lot of family members and friends that listen to him and watch him and are frightened by the things that he says every night with the chalkboard, where they really — people that watch him and listen to other people that constantly say Barack Obama is a racist, he’s a Marxist, he is changing America forever, he is killing freedom in America — those words have impact. Now, people don’t go out — I’m not talking about people going out — my mom’s not going to go out and shoot somebody. But my mom and a lot of other people like her that watch him every day start to believe, if they hear every day, every day, that there is this guy in Washington, D.C., this black guy that hates all white people, and he wants to take your money — turn the music down — and that he’s a Marxist, and he wants to destroy the country you grew up in — you feed that vile message to Americans every day, it’s going to have an impact.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Joe Scarborough of MSNBC show Morning Joe, talking about the effect of Glenn Beck. Final comments, Frances Fox Piven?

FRANCES FOX PIVEN: Well, I think that we haven’t given enough attention to and enough importance to what is really a very dominant propaganda network that has developed in this country. It is planful. There are different components to it. You can trace its beginnings in some of the Republican strategy — strategists of the late 1960s, who were trying to win over the working class by playing on the cultural divisions in the United States. It’s hard for people to understand what’s going on in a complicated society. Democracy requires that people have some understanding of what’s going on, of what their own interests are, who their enemies are. But it’s a very complicated society. And moneyed propagandists have taken advantage of that to create a demonology in which it is the left, the Democratic left, that is the source of many of our troubles. And this is the most frightening development, rather than the kind of nutty death threats that you read a couple of. It’s a very alarming development, because it raises the question of whether a democracy can survive and reemerge with any kind of health in the face of these enormous propaganda capacities. And in that sense, it is Murdoch, not Beck, who is the more important target.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Frances Fox Piven, I want to thank you for being with us, professor of political science and sociology at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her most recent book, Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America.

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