Outsiders Edge In: Who Really Benefits from the Campus Protests?

by | May 22, 2024 | America's Adversaries

Campus protests open the door for Socialists, Marxists and Anarchist Sympathizers to infiltrate America’s political mainstream.

The Israel-Hamas conflict is 6,000 miles from America’s shores. But it has created disruption at the heart of our institutions. Students angry at government corruption are using a complicated wrong— 34,000 Palestinian deaths enriching our defense-academic complex—to register their dissent in campus protests and encampments.

The problem with this acting out is not just that some students are protesting in unseemly and illegal ways. Nor do just the recognizable political actors (George Soros, the Pritzker Family, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund) predictably interfere. It’s that the campus protests have opened a door for truly radical operators to infiltrate America’s political mainstream.

From Marxian Democratic socialists to Antifa apologists, people who want to overthrow democracy and sow disorder have leapt at the chance. They use the ongoing Palestinian issue to shift our politics in ever more extreme directions across a range of issues.

Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) Amplify the Issue

From October through April, the Florida International University (FIU) chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), which a past Restoration report documented advancing the cause of the Cuban Communist regime, held at least eighteen events related to the Israel-Hamas conflict. These included its October event promoting “the fight against capitalism and for a free Palestine,” and its January participation in “the HISTORIC 400,000 person March on Washington for Gaza.” They also included “a Panel on the connections between LGBTQ Liberation and the Fight for a Free Palestine” that same month as well as a “Vigil for Palestinian martyrs” in April, complete with rose petals.  

Some events had disquieting overtones. One protest, in January, involved protesting in the halls outside a private viewing of a movie recounting the October 7 attacks.

FIU protest shared by permission with the author
FIU protest shared by permission with the author

Another, in February, brought an arrest of an YDSA member for alleged battery of a campus officer (charges were later dropped). A third, in March, occurred when FIU Hillel held a Shabbat dinner featuring former IDF soldiers not involved in the current conflict; according to a participant, YDSA-supported students stood outside and shamed those entering the event.  Still, by April, YDSA FIU Vice President Joselyn Pena had used the Palestinian hook to get featured as a student leader in a “respectable” venue: a complimentary Teen Vogue article about student activism in Florida.

YSDA To the Rescue?

Pena isn’t the only YDSA mover pivoting off the Palestinian issue. Another is Maria Franzblau: a prominent member of YDSA at FIU. Franzblau’s causes range far and wide. She recently joined the national DSA’s first delegation to Cuba and wrote about it for DSA’s Marxist Reform and Revolution caucus magazine. Earlier this year, she spoke for a video in which she called Governor DeSantis “Petty, transphobic, racist, capitalist.” “Bye FIU!” she posted the day of her graduation this year, “i helped turn your student body into transgender communists.” But, in April, as the campus protests developed, Franzblau made the Palestinian issue her main focus. She challenged DSA’s national leadership on X, saying that “…DSA nationally *could* have done this after 10/7 had we seized the initiative and moved quickly.”

According to Franzblau’s X feed, YDSA coordinators were at the NYU encampment, at University of Minnesota Twin Cities, at Northeastern, and an observer from YDSA was at Emerson. A DSA National Political Committee member was at CUNY and another was at University of Oregon. Around this time, Franzblau tweeted: “YDSA is organizing mass calls, protests, and near 24/7 social media with an all-volunteer, member-led operation.” She accompanied this with a list of “demands” to universities. These went well beyond the requests of student protestors that universities divest in companies benefiting from the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Looking deeper into the encampments, this trend of avid on-the-ground operators using the Palestinian issue to move into the mainstream holds true across the board.

Journalists, Academics, Artists, and Protest Consultants Flock to the Cause

One example, identified thanks to the work of the reporter and photographer Leeroypress from ViralNewsNYC, is Talia Jane, who made her name writing public letters criticizing employers and whose journalism includes a heavy focus on what she calls fascist, right-wing activity. Jane appeared at the capitol on January 6, 2021, wearing a MAGA hat, she said to blend in, and was later credited by The New York Times with providing video of the event. But the Palestinian issue has been her focus since October 7, landing Jane in Rolling Stone, and she regularly attaches it to her fascist preoccupation. She “call[s] out” people whom she labels (erroneously) white nationalists whom she says are infiltrating university encampments. She says she does this to“[counter] fascist disinfo & hate.” But some of the people she calls out, like the rigorously even-handed journalist Anthony Cabassa, are reporting from angles that run counter to her narrative.

Another operator working in the same vein is Rutgers academic Mark Bray, cited by Jane as an authority on the subject, whose books include 2022’s The Anarchist Inquisition and 2017’s Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, which even a Washington Post reviewer described as apologizing for Antifa “stifling speech and clobbering white supremacists.” Today, Bray is all-Palestinian almost all the time, contributing to the cause with polished wisdom like “Dissent is impossible without disorder.” He intersperses these sayings with posts urging followers to “Support Argentina’s Antifascist Social Center.”

. . . And Still More

Yet another operator, Hannah Moushabeck, comes from the arts. She is “a Queer person, an unapologetically fat person” who is also a Palestinian American and the author of the children’s book Homeland: My Father Dreams of Palestine, released in 2023. She recently spoke about her book at an event sponsored by Valley Families for Palestine, a nonprofit in her hometown of Amherst. This event made headlines when Lil Hot Mess, the drag queen who was also performing, told an audience of elementary schoolers: “If you’re a drag queen and you know it, and you really want to show it, if you’re a drag queen and you know it, shout ‘Free Palestine.’” Moushabeck is a reliable quote on the Palestinian issue, and regularly broadcasts non-advertising advertisements about it: e.g. “If you invite me to speak but ask me not to talk about Palestine, don’t bother.”

Finally, the veteran protest class is represented by Lisa Fithian, again identified by Leeroypress from ViralNewsNYC. Fithian has worked as a “protest consultant” in and around academic institutions since the 1970s. She has published books on creating social disorder in the name of social change, and acts out accordingly, for example planning actions in Washington, D.C. before the activities of January 6, 2021, under the motto “Chaos is the soup by which change emerges, let’s get cooking.” She managed the rare feat of actually appearing in The New York Times’ coverage of the protests, thanks to behavior so overt that even the paper noticed. “This is a historic moment!” she said, accusing counter-protestors at Columbia of acting like “assholes” and “scum” as she tried to push them back while her fellow protestors barricaded themselves in a building. She later framed this move as trying to “de-escalate” the situation.  

The Complicity of the Institutions in the Campus Protests

All of these movers—YDSA, the journalistic “antifascists,” Hannah Moushabeck, Lisa Fithian— have links to mainstream institutional operators. A cursory look at these operators makes the connections plain.

DSA  donors or fundraisers include Nikil Saval, a Pennsylvania House representative; David Duhalde, “senior candidate service liaison at the New York City Campaign Finance Board”; and Nicole Brodeur, a nonprofit administrator, as well as her husband Alex Payne, “formerly of Twitter and Simple Bank.”  Versha Sharma, the editor of Teen Vogue, which gave YDSA at FIU Vice President Joselyn Pena a platform, worked at MSNBC and on the 2008 Obama presidential campaign.  

The anarchist apologist Mark Bray has links to Pennsylvania Rep. Nikil Saval via a Leftist magazine Saval edited. This connection also links him to the Pennsylvania progressive group PA Stands Up: an outgrowth of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaigns. As Restoration has documented in a past report, PA Stands Up pushes draconian local legislation prohibiting discrimination based on “having a relationship or association with a disabled person, source of income, height, weight…use of guide or support animals, use of mechanical aids, and being a victim of domestic and sexual violence.”

Talia Jane, the “anti-fascist” reporter who cites Mark Bray’s work, now has influential institutional links of her own. In mid-May, she joined the staff of The New Republic Magazine—which, along with The Atlantic, has been the preeminent magazine of Washington’s establishment elite for the last hundred years. Its editor is known as a major influence on the Biden White House. Jane will serve as “an associate writer for breaking news” even as she “independently reports on protest, social movements, and the far-right.”

When it comes to the “queer, unapologetically fat,” Pro-Palestinian children’s book writer Hannah Moushabeck, the connections are more convoluted, and surprising. The recipient of funds raised at Moushabeck’s Valley Families for Palestine event was “alQaws for Sexual & Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society” which began its life with the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, linked to the Liberal Zionist New Israel Fund. AlQaws has partnered with Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, which worked with USAID during the Obama Administration.

Veteran Protest Consultants

Veteran protest consultant Lisa Fithian runs in the same venues as players from the Nonviolent Action Lab at Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, which has gone out of its way to present the college protests as peaceful efforts at civil change. The Lab has important links to the Political Instability Task Force, which was started at the impetus of the CIA and which reports on disinformation in the United States. It also has links to the Horizons Project—part of a Left-wing “ecosystem of actors” that receives funding from the Ford and Packard Foundations.

Finally, many of these players have indirect links to New York Magazine. Its current editor-in-chief, David Haskell, is, despite his insistently benign presentation, an avid politicker who was the first promoter of the writer E. Jean Carroll’s rape claims against President Trump. For its latest issue, New York Magazine ran a cover story about the encampments. written exclusively by the staff of the Columbia Spectator, Columbia’s student newspaper—meaning that the magazine outsourced the task of distilling the protests’ complexity to student journalists from a paper whose editorial team was on record as sympathizing with protestors. Not surprisingly, the story effectively whitewashed the protests and some of the radical movers who benefited from them.

And What it Means

Movers like Joselyn Pena, Maria Franzblau, Talia Jane, Mark Bray, Hannah Moushabeck, and Lisa Fithian don’t simply push the pro-Palestinian cause. Their movements functions to increase both social disorder and  government power in the name of any issue they can get hold of. Thanks to the suffering involved in the war against Hamas and Israel’s clear links to America’s defense industry, the Palestinian issue has mainstreamed them. And American institutions, many of which share their view of populist conservatism as “fascism,” are welcoming them in.

This isn’t the first time such a move has happened. In the late 1960s, actors bent on disorder, calling themselves the Weather Underground, used the excuse of Vietnam to embark on a campaign of bombings. After prosecutions against some of them sputtered, they moved into the institutions, particularly the education and legal spheres, teaching in the name of social justice instead of knowledge. This put them in contact with seeders of a new educational theory, Social Emotional Learning, or SEL. The function of  SEL, as previous Restoration reports have documented, was social control. Its backers included advisers to a future president, Barack Obama. It also allowed them influence in Chicago, a center of this educational “development,” including on the mayor. Finally, it allowed one of these operators to helm a project inside a prominent law school funded by the Pritzker family, whose members currently run Harvard, oversee Ukraine’s “economic recovery,” and govern Illinois.

These operators largely didn’t intersect with the “big players.” But they edged into their projects and gained their indirect support, with effects we’re suffering from today. Their names (Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn) were different than the Palestinian players’. But their moves are the same. The question is whether we’ll let the maneuver get repeated.  

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