Political Cults: Truthers and NATLFED

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[Highway Interchange in Oakland, California Collapses After Fire]

Thanks to Bob from Brockley and Shagya Blog for the link to 9/11 Cult Watch in the U.K. Know of similar websites or blogs in the U.S. and elsewhere? Please let me know! Political and religious cults are a personal interest and the truthers are among the nuttiest these days. But at least they are not violent.

Back in April there was a major accident on a freeway in Oakland, California that resulted in an overpass collapsing. Remember the fatuous truther claim that fire cannot cause steel to collapse. Well, here are some of their responses to the incident in Oakland.

Expect more posts on truthers in the weeks ahead.

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Another cult I’ll be writing about in the future is the National Labor Federation (NATLFED), aka the Provisional Communist Party or the Formation. NATLFED is much more centralized than the truther movement, operating through a network of “mutual benefit associations” or “entities” including the Eastern Farmworkers Association, Western Service Workers Assocation, the Commemoration Committee for the Black Panther Party (CCBPP) and numerous other front groups.

Unfortunately, some useful idiots naive college students are routinely duped into thinking NATLFED is connected with just about every revolutionary movement from the Sandinistas in Nicaragua to the Black Panther Party in the U.S. For example, Salon magazine’s Novella Carpenter (a graduate student in the department of journalism at UC Berkeley) recently penned an article, “Why I pick lettuce for the Panthers” which repeats one myth of the cult:

At Alcatraz, I turn east for half a block, and I’ve arrived. A gold embossed sign above the door reads: “The Commemorator.” A quarterly published by the Commemoration Committee for the Black Panther Party, the newspaper has a circulation of 10,000 and specializes in stories for the black community. It was started in 1990, a year after founding Panther Huey Newton was shot in Oakland in August 1989. The remaining members of the party feared the positive legacy of the Panthers would be lost.

None of the individuals who started the CCBPP were ever members of the Black Panther Party. It was started as front for NATLFED. You would think a graduate student of journalism would spend at least a bit of time doing some preliminary research for this piece. After all, there are actual Panthers living in the San Francisco Bay Area including David Hilliard. In addition to Mr. Hilliard and other Panthers, the author could have contacted The Huey P. Newton Foundation, made use of libraries, archives and yes even the Internet. More worrying than the author’s lack of basic research is that Salon.com ran this factually flawed and dangerous article.

For the perspective of one ex-NATLFED member please have a look at The Truth About NATLFED via archive.org:

 

Hot news after its NYC headquarters was raided by police in November 1996, NATLFED actually has been active for 27 years in dozens of small fronts across the country. NATLFED fronts, using innocent names like “Western Service Workers Association,” “Eastern Farm Workers Association,” “Coalition of Concerned Medical Professionals,” and “Women’s Press Collective,” lure liberal volunteers from communities and colleges into brainwashed separation from their families, jobs, and friends.

Discovered this thread about NATLFED at Libcom.org.

NATLFED’s FBI file is available here.

Recommended reading on the general subject of political cults:

Dennis Tourish. Ideological Intransigence, Democratic Centralism and Cultism: A Case Study from the Political Left. Cultic Studies Journal. Vol. 15., No. 1. 1998.

Abstract:

There is a dearth of literature documenting the existence of cults in the political sphere. This paper suggests that some left wing organizations share a number of ideological underpinnings and organizational practices which inherently inclines them to the adoption of cultic practices. In particular, it is argued that doctrines of ‘catastrophism’ and democratic centralist modes of organization normally found among Trotskyist groupings are implicated in such phenomenon. A case history is offered of a comparatively influential Trotskyist grouping in Britain, which split in 1992, where it is suggested that an analysis of the organization in terms of cultic norms is particularly fruitful. This is not intended to imply that a radical critique of society is necessarily inappropriate. Rather, it is to argue that political movements frequently adopt organizational forms, coupled with ‘black and white’ political programmes, which facilitate the exercise of undue social influence. This stifles genuinely creative political thought. Issues which this analysis suggests are particularly pertinent for those involved in radical politics are considered.

 

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[Raid on NATLFED HQ: NYC, 1996]

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8 responses »

  1. I am interested in learning more about NATLFED. As far as I can tell, since the Brooklyn raid, the national organization has become either defunct, ineffective, or very effectively secretive. Most substantive material I can find about the organization was written 1980-96. I can find almost nothing original written in the past 5 years–everything just seems to reference older documents.

    I myself volunteered for a few days at Midwest Workers Association, which I later learned was associated with NATLFED. My experience matched exactly the descriptions I read online. That is, it seemed to be a “mutual benefit organization” that used canvassing to attract members, collected meager dues, then provided some assistance to the poor. However, the organization appeared fairly non-ideological. I saw little evidence of anyone being controlled, of centralized leadership, or any particular political ideology.

    Having said all this, I am disturbed with MWA’s failure to disclose its connection to NATLFED, so I won’t be going back. But I’d like to examine the possibility that NATLFED now exists only as its front groups, while the national organization has withered. It might not be the abusive cult it once was.

    Does anyone have any more recent experiences with NATLFED?

    • If you walk through the front door, there are National Labor Federation posters everywhere… A main donation form comes from community members donating for a National Labor Federation calender. I doubt they meant to misinform you. More likely, you didn’t look at what was around you.

  2. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I used to be a volunteer for one of the NATLFED front groups (known as “entities” in cult jargon) for quite a while. I won’t say which one at this point as I will be blogging on this issue in the weeks ahead.

    Your write:

    “[I]t seemed to be a “mutual benefit organization” that used canvassing to attract members, collected meager dues, then provided some assistance to the poor. However, the organization appeared fairly non-ideological. I saw little evidence of anyone being controlled, of centralized leadership, or any particular political ideology.”

    This is generally the case with the “entities”. For example, I volunteered for close to a year before learning anything about NATLFED. However, when they want you to become a full-time volunteer or “cadre” that’s when they really start to put the pressure on. As long as your involvement is peripheral—someone poor receiving a food or clothing benefit or as a part-time volunteer occasionally going on a food drive or food distribution—you will most likely never even anything about NATLFED. It’s a very secretive outfit.

    In this respect, NATLFED works a lot like the Communist Party used to, setting up fronts that are ostensibly independent or autonomous but are actually controlled by a central, political party. All of the leadership in these fronts receive direct “labor education” and training from NATLFED. And the NATLFED model of organizing (“strata organizing” in cult jargon) is used in every entity or front. Without the umbrella provided by NATLFED the entities would cease to exist. Just as NATLFED relies on the entities for new recruits, the entities rely on NATLFED for leadership and organizational coordination. Again, most people who are involved in a peripheral fashion have no clue about this. But the entire notion that the entities could exist without the core displays a lack of understanding of the relationship between these various levels of the organization.

    When you write:

    “I am interested in learning more about NATLFED. As far as I can tell, since the Brooklyn raid, the national organization has become either defunct, ineffective, or very effectively secretive. Most substantive material I can find about the organization was written 1980-96. I can find almost nothing original written in the past 5 years–everything just seems to reference older documents.”

    The only way you will find out more is by carefully looking at the available court documents, talking to current and former members, getting inside the organization yourself, or some combination of these. I have done all three.

    You must understand that NATLFED aka the Provisional Communist Party aka The Formation, was always highly secretive from its beginnings in the 1970s. This secrecy did not develop post-raid. Extreme secrecy gave the members a sense of power and purpose it also was highly beneficial to the leadership. In addition to internal secrecy leadership pressured cadre to cut off contact with their relatives. While I never experienced this, after I left the organization I did communicate with individuals who faced this sort of pressure.

    NATLFED fronts also avoided protests, demonstrations, rallies, etc. Front groups will, on occasion, attend these sorts of events but generally speaking the entities only relate to each other. For example, I attended a demonstration where all the participants were either volunteers or community members that the entities had bussed in to a particular location. The entities do not attempt to network or get involved with other like minded organizations (labor, human rights, environmental, etc). From my fairly long experience on the left groups (organized or not) were constantly seeking the support and validation of each other. The NATLFED entities, by contrast, stuck to themselves and avoided the broader left. This was not due to some impulse originating in the entities but was a command from the center.

    As far as the organization lacking an online presence, this is part and parcel of their approach. The organization makes a conscious attempt to avoid a paper trail or any documentation of its existence. The more secret, the more “underground,” the better. Whenever I arrived or left the NATLFED HQ in San Francisco, there would always be someone posted at a window on the top floor looking to see who was coming and going from the building.

    The entities are more open. They set up tables in front of organic markets or on the campus of the local college or university. They give you a song and dance about how they are “organizing the unorganized and doing a lot of positive work. Why don’t you come down and see the sort of necessary work we are doing?” It’s all part of their approach. They want you to physically come in the door. They want you to sit down. They want to talk to you. They want to let you know how bad things are. The only way to make things get better is by joining up with them.

    It’s a very simple message but it has some degree of success. By success I mean this sort of thing does persuade some people to give up their former lives, become cadre and embrace the cult. But I never made cadre. I was pressured on a couple of occasions (never physically) and that was enough for me.

    I did manage to find something recent online, Mark Levine’s presentation at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in 2004. Mr. Levine’s paper was titled, “Strata Organizing: A Proven Method for Organizing Unrecognized Workers,” and he claimed to represent the Western Service Workers Association, a NATLFED front.

    http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/1/1/1/0/4/p111041_index.html

    Mr. Levine is West Coast Political Commissar for NATLFED. He used to have large portraits of Marx, Lenin and Stalin in his office at NATLFED’s West Coast HQ in San Francisco.

    I realize this is a long reply. I hope to have a more substantive blog post addressing these issues by the end of the month.

    • What I find the most sickening is that our society keeps us so divided that any person fighting for those who are completely left behind or going without MUST have alterior motivations. I.e. are communists, socialists, etc.

      “Look at court documents” you say? YES becuase our legal system truly stands for the people and represents the truth…NOT! Study the history of labor in this country and you can see that labor organizers have ALWAYS been attacked and even killed for fighting for the 8 hour day, higher wages and civil rights.

      Do you know how it feels to go without the BASICS to survive such as heating gas and food? This is the situation for members of these associations.

      You want to talk about the real cult FRONT?? Just yesterday I read an article in the Tribune that states 12,000 people were shut off from gas service in the last 3 months in the City of Chicago. And the government claims to be on our side? What about hurricane Katrina? I saw how countless people were left to die becuase they did not serve a profitable interest to the powers that be.

      If you think the path to change is easy and soft, you need to summon the spirit of MLK and ask him about the attacks on those who have fought for all people’s rights, the hard work involved, and the dubious promises of the government because civil rights for all is still not here, and will not be until we all get off the fucking computer and into action…
      .
      Fuck you haters!!!!!!!!!!

      • So what has NatL Fed done? Nothing! Bullshit is all we get from this crap “action ” facts are NatLFed broke laws. Got busted & are jokes! Cadre are too stupid to buy this shit by throwing away lives poor people wish for, because we despise you fools. Use “poor people ” as a tool to get handouts for the organizeation. Yet no evidence of doing anything but stealing?

  3. I have volunteered for the CCBPP and can say with complete certainty that it is run by a former Black Panther. I know this, because I have seen the COINTELPRO’s file on the founder of the CCBPP back when he was a Panther (he joined in 1966). I met other former Panthers (i.e. David Hilliard) who acknowledged him as a former Panther and who collaborate with the CCBPP for events, one of which included a Black Panther Records release, speech from Bobby Seale, and plug for the CCBPP’s Li’l Bobby Literacy Campaign and Labor College, which educate young and old about the realities of our government’s economic policy.

    I was attracted to the CCBPP for their literacy work with the community which continues the tradition of the Panthers’ Community School, and saw how they live on the donations of food vendors across the Bay. I was asked to become a “cadre” and chose not for various reasons, but none of which included my resistance to NATLFED. Even though I didn’t feel I knew enough to make that kind of committment, I learned so much from the authentic resources that CCBPP granted me access to. I also daresay that the CCBPP is more visible in the Oakland community than its sister organizations…or even the BBQ sauce Bobby Seale put on the market over a year ago.

    I’d double-check your facts if I were you. Your argument is weakened by accusations that the CCBPP has no relevance to the BPP, or its founding principles.

    #

  4. “I also daresay that the CCBPP is more visible in the Oakland community than its sister organizations.”

    I agree. The CCBPP is arguably the most visible of any of the NATLFED front groups in the Bay Area.

    “I know this, because I have seen the COINTELPRO’s file on the founder of the CCBPP back when he was a Panther (he joined in 1966).”

    An FBI file? An OPD file? Dept of Justice? Where did you view this file? Through a FOIA request or was it shown to you by one of the members of the CCBPP? The reason I ask these questions is NATLFED fronts are notorious for producing fake documents and unless you procured the document from the government agency in question I would extremely leery of taking anyone from the CBPP or any NATLFED front at their word.

    “I learned so much from the authentic resources that CCBPP granted me access to.”

    What does this mean? How are resources not authentic?

    As far as your time volunteering, I don’t doubt you had a nice experience but I suggest you do a little more research and dare to scratch a little beneath the surface. Don’t take what they say as truth. Dig around a little. Ask questions and see how they respond. All is not as it appears at the CCBPP or NATLFED. The latter organization has been scamming people for over two decades.

    I know that the CCBPP works with some former Oakland Panthers (e.g. Dr. T. Small) but was not aware of any connection David Hilliard has with them. Last I heard Hilliard provided the Huey P. Newton papers to Stanford University and was doing some of project out there. At that time, Hilliard was highly skeptical of various groups co-opting the Panther name and logo. I have not lived in the bay area for close to a decade so if you say he is working with the CCBPP I’ll take your word for it.

    “…Bobby Seale put on the market over a year ago.”

    Did you ever read his cookbook? I think it was called Bobbyque…

  5. It is difficult to learn about this group because of its secrecy. I advise caution when reading comments by most former members. The truth is, they don’t really know the truth. Some of them rant and rave, so much that the blogs that host those sessions eventually become bogged and mired in personalities and oneupsmanship.

    I do not know if you are still following this blog. If you are, I post this this so that if you choose to read an insider’s story you may. Oh, the Organization is still out there. My opinion is that it is dying, that it is nothing more than a paper tiger. Others disagree.

    http://exnatlfed.wordpress.com/

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