The Communist. Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor
A new book documents how a card-carrying member of the Communist Party influenced our president.
(/sites/default/files/uploads/2012/07/kengor3.jpg)Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Paul Kengor, Ph.D., a bestselling author whose works include Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century; God and Ronald Reagan; God and George W. Bush; God and Hillary Clinton; and The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism. His articles regularly appear in publications ranging from USA TODAY to The New York Times, plus numerous academic journals.
A professor at Grove City College, Kengor is a frequent commentator on television and radio. He earned his bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh and his master’s from American University. He is the author of the new book, The Communist. Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor.
FP: Paul Kengor, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I would like to talk to you today about Frank Marshall Davis and his ties to, and influence on, Obama.
But first, I would like to begin with you telling us a bit about a gentleman named Spyridon Mitsotakis. You dedicate the book to him. Tell us why.
Kengor: That’s a great question that gets to the heart of how and why I did this book.
Spyridon is a remarkable young man. I met him when I was signing books at CPAC in February 2011. He had bought my previous book, Dupes, and seemed to know more about liberal/progressive dupes and the American communist movement than even I did. He was standing there at the front of the line asking me a new question every few seconds, clearly very precocious—and annoying the folks behind him in line, who told him to move on. I gave him my email address and promised I’d answer his questions in full via email. He said, “Yeah, right.” When he emailed me, I followed through on my promise. He finished our email exchanges by saying, “Hey, by the way, I’m a student at NYU, and we have the largest collection of archives of the American Communist Party. I’d love to help you with research. Let me know if you need anything.”
Well, my plan at that moment was to take my time writing a follow up to Dupes, and not at all to do a biography of Frank Marshall Davis. I figured I’d get to seek more information on Davis for the Dupes follow-up, as I had information on him in the original Dupes. So, I said to Spyridon: “I’m trying to find archives of the Chicago Star, the Party-line publication that Davis wrote for in the latter 1940s. I can’t find them anywhere, not even in Chicago. The Library of Congress claims to have them, but they’re not on the shelf. Can you help me?”
Within about three hours, Spyridon was emailing me PDFs of the Chicago Star. Within about three weeks, he had mailed me copies of every Davis column in the Star. I was blown away by what I read, particularly the haunting similarity to some of Obama’s statements. I soon realized that I, alone, was in possession of a treasure trove of information on Frank Marshall Davis. Spyridon kept digging and finding more and more, and then I realized I had to do this book. It wouldn’t have happened without Spyridon—thus the dedication. The kid could be a future Herb Romerstein.
FP: Wow, well, our thanks and appreciation goes out to Spyridon Mitsotakis – and we wish him bountiful energy and the enthusiasm in his search and battle for historical truth in the road ahead.
Ok, so who was Frank Marshall Davis?
Kengor: Frank Marshall Davis, Communist Party USA (CPUSA) number 47544, was a 20th century American who wrote pro-Soviet propaganda in newspaper columns and was a loyal Soviet patriot.
FP: What do you mean by “loyal Soviet patriot?”
Kengor: While it will shock naïve liberals who still don’t grasp the horrors of communism, readers of FrontPage will understand. Leftist Americans who took the extraordinary step of joining CPUSA swore a loyalty oath to the USSR—Stalin’s USSR in the case of Frank Marshall Davis. The oath stated: “I pledge myself to rally the masses to defend the Soviet Union, the land of victorious socialism. I pledge myself to remain at all times a vigilant and firm defender of the Leninist line of the Party, the only line that insures the triumph of Soviet Power in the United States.”
FP: When did Frank Marshall Davis join the Communist Party?
Kengor: Remarkably, he joined early in World War II, after the Hitler-Stalin Pact—a period when many Party members bolted the Party because they were outraged at Stalin signing that pact with Hitler. That pact, of course, precipitated the invasion of Poland and World War II. Jewish American communists in particular were aghast. The man in Moscow to whom they swore their unwavering allegiance had helped pave the way for the Holocaust.
FP: Surely Frank Marshall Davis knew about the pact. Did he ever explain myself?
Kengor: Actually, yes, he did. He made sure he addressed this in his memoirs, conceding that he had “felt betrayed” by Stalin. But he apparently got over the betrayal. “So the Russians were as hypocritical as the rest of the white world!” he yapped. No surprise, “since the Russians were white, what else could you really expect?”
In short, Davis’s discomfort over Stalin’s agreement with Hitler was not enough to keep him from joining the Party. He still drank from the chalice.
For the record, this wasn’t the only time that Davis helped accommodate Hitler. In 1940, he hooked up with one of the worst, most seditious communist fronts ever to operate in the United States: the American Peace Mobilization. That group, which in 1940 sought to keep America out of the war and from stopping Hitler because Hitler (at the time) was allied with Stalin, was organized by CPUSA and the Comintern in Chicago, which was where Davis was located. The communists who organized the “peace” mobilization sought out dupes from the Religious Left and other various “progressive” factions. They also directly recruited African Americans, claiming that the evil FDR was seeking to send black boys to their death to fight for evil Churchill and the British. This was the kind of vulgar propaganda that CPUSA regularly peddled. One of the African Americans that they targeted was Frank Marshall Davis. This was a powerful factor in bringing Davis into the Party as an eventual full member.
I must note that it was also through this group that Davis would work with Robert Taylor, who just happened to be the grandfather of Valerie Jarrett.
FP: That’s remarkable. Valerie Jarrett today is Obama’s right-hand woman in the White House.
Kengor: Yes, and it’s even more eerie than that. Frank Marshall Davis, Obama’s mentor, also worked with Vernon Jarrett in these circles. Vernon Jarrett was Valerie’s father-in-law. And it’s worse still. Davis, Obama’s mentor, also worked with Harry and David Canter, two other Chicago communists. The Canters mentored a young man named David Axelrod in Chicago in the 1970s. So, the troika that’s arguably running America today—Obama and Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod—all have common bonds in Chicago’s communist circles from the 1940s. Their mentors knew each other.
I know this is incredible, but it’s true. You couldn’t make this up. No one would believe it. We’re being governed by ghosts from Chicago’s Communist Party glory years.
FP: Are there other people that Frank Marshall Davis worked with in Chicago who have relevance today?
Kengor: Oh, yes, I could go on and on. At the Chicago Star, the communist newspaper for which he wrote and was the founding editor-in-chief (1946-48), Davis regularly shared the op-ed page with Senator Claude “Red” Pepper, who at that exact time was writing the bill to nationalize healthcare in the United States—which Davis himself advocated in his columns. By the way, Pepper’s chief of staff, who wrote that bill, was Charles Kramer, who we now know was working for the KGB under the codename “mole.”
Another Davis comrade at the Star was William Patterson, who actually mentored Frank Marshall Davis and was probably more important than any other figure in bringing Davis into the Party.
FP: William Patterson was a hardcore communist.
Kengor: Yes, and among his legacies is the Kremlin’s “People’s Friendship University,” which he helped plan in the 1960s. People’s Friendship University became better known as the “Patrice Lumumba Friendship University,” a Kremlin grooming school for third-world revolutionaries. This university, the third largest in the USSR, schooled some of the world’s leading terrorists. Distinguished alumni include Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, whose doctoral thesis became a book, The Other Side: The Secret Relations between Nazism and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement. According to Abbas, “only a few hundred thousand Jews” were killed in the Holocaust, and those mostly through Nazi-Zionist collusion. Other proud alumni include Carlos the Jackal, Mohamed Boudia, and Henry Ruiz, Nicaraguan Sandinista commander and economic planner-in-chief.
Among this band of rogues, Mohamed Boudia was a top figure in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), one of the cores branches of the PLO. He was in charge of PFLP terrorist operations in Europe, placed there by the KGB, where he worked with Soviet-backed terror cells in East Berlin. There he also worked with the Black September Organization. Among Boudia’s most dastardly acts—which involved Mahmoud Abbas—was the brutal murder of Jewish Olympians in the 1972 Munich massacre.
Such is the sordid legacy of the People’s Friendship University, championed by Frank Marshall Davis mentor William Patterson.
FP: So, Patterson helped mentor Frank Marshall Davis, who, in turn, mentored Obama?
FP: In your book, you say that Davis’s first major Party job was editing and writing columns for the Chicago Star in the late 1940s. You found a lot of similarity in what Davis was writing and what Obama says today.
Kengor: Yes. Davis constantly bashed Wall Street, big oil, profits, GOP tax cuts, the wealthy and “millionaires.” He called for taxpayer funding of “universal healthcare” and “public works projects.” He targeted General Motors. He championed Russian foreign policy, especially at the expense of countries like Poland. I could go on and on. The similarities are chilling.
FP: Was there a particular Davis column that really struck you?
Kengor: Yes, and I use it to open the book. In a November 1946 column, Davis wrote: “I’m tired of being beaned with those double meaning words like ‘sacred institutions’ and ‘the American way of life’ which our flag-waving fascists and lukewarm liberals hurl at us day and night.” This struck me because it’s so similar to Obama’s quoting of Davis in Dreams from My Father. There, Obama quoted Davis saying: “They’ll train you so good, you’ll start believing what they tell you about equal opportunity and the American way and all that sh-t.”
When I saw that, I knew that Davis had lectured Obama with at least some of the same sentiments decades earlier in his old Communist Party writings. I found a bunch of examples of Davis trashing the American way, so much so that my initial subtitle for this book was “Frank Marshall Davis and the American Way.”
FP: Okay, when did Obama meet Davis?
Kengor: According to an eyewitness, they were first introduced in 1970. It was Obama’s grandfather, Stanley Dunham, who made the introduction. Dunham, himself a leftist, saw in Davis a potential role model and black father figure that Obama was lacking. Davis knew and influenced Obama throughout Obama’s adolescence in the 1970s, right up until he went to college. In fact, those disparaging words about the American way were Davis’s parting words to Obama before Obama headed off to Occidental College.
FP: You interview someone who knew Obama at Occidental and says that Obama was an actual communist at Occidental.
Kengor: That’s right. The person is Dr. John Drew, who I’ve interviewed at length and remain in regular contact with today. He’s totally credible, no axe to grind, no story to sell. Drew contacted me because he knew I was researching Davis. Drew sees himself as the “missing link” between Obama’s time with Frank Marshall Davis and with later radicals like Bill Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Drew himself was a Marxist at the time, and Obama was introduced to him as a fellow Marxist—as “one of us.” Drew told me about Obama’s belief in what Drew described as the “Frank Marshall Davis fantasy of revolution.” Drew, who was a more realistic, chastened Marxist, was stunned at Obama’s unwavering belief in the imminence of a Marxist revolution in the United States.
Now, for the record, if this is true, this doesn’t mean that Obama is today still a Marxist, but it would mean that he once was—and Frank Marshall Davis would have been a primary explanatory factor in Obama becoming a Marxist at the time. That’s why (among other reasons) this book on Davis needed to be done.
FP: Was Davis a national-security threat?
Kengor: The federal government thought so. In the book, I present documents from Davis’s 600-page FBI file in which the FBI repeatedly re-certifies Davis on the Security Index. That’s a very serious thing. It means that, in the event of a war breaking out between the US and USSR, Obama’s mentor could have been placed under immediate arrest. Needless to say, that’s quite unprecedented for a presidential mentor. With a mentor like that, Barack Obama should have trouble getting a security clearance for a standard, entry-level government job. Instead, Americans elected him right into the Oval Office.
FP: Incredible, that is really something.
Paul Kengor, how would you crystallize the main message/thesis of your book?
Kengor: Mentors matter. Any study of any president starts with mentors. We all know that. And yet, why have we ignored this mentor to this particular president? Well, the answer is clear from my book: Because no president in all of American history has ever had a mentor as radical as Frank Marshall Davis. No president—ever—has had a mentor who was a literal card-carrying member of the Communist Party. This obviously ought to merit our attention. My book provides that attention. It’s scandalous that it would take four years into Obama’s presidency for a book like this to be published. It’s a sign of the woeful liberal bias by this nation’s “journalists” and “biographers.”
FP: What do you hope your book will help achieve?
Kengor: Many things, but I’ll list just a few.
First off, I want people to continue to realize that our president is the product of some remarkably radical influences, and here, in Frank Marshall Davis, was arguably the most radical of them all. Davis had an influence on Obama. We need to consider that influence.
Beyond that, I’d like liberals and Democrats to please understand that communists were not their friends. The communists considered liberals to be their useful idiots, their dupes, their “prey,” as Whittaker Chambers put it. They used them incessantly. Davis was one of those who used liberals. And then, after all that, after decades of targeting the Democratic Party, Davis ultimately infiltrated the party and even influenced its current president. It’s a remarkable story.
Finally, there were numerous American communists like Frank Marshall Davis who did horrible agitation on behalf of international communism throughout the 20th century. They were on the wrong side of history, a bloody side that left over 100 million corpses in their wake—double the combined dead of the century’s two world wars. And you know what? They never apologized.
No, instead, they cursed their accusers for daring to charge (quite correctly) that they were communists threatening America and the wider world. Not only did they get away with it, but liberals today continue to excuse and protect them. In Davis’s case, they do so to protect Obama. This is a great historical injustice. The truth needs to be told.
FP: Paul Kengor, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
Kengor: Thank you, Jamie. And my thanks to you, David Horowitz, and everyone at Frontpage for your courage. Be not afraid.
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