Muslim Hunting: David Horowitz's Antagonistic Career

Smear Machine

Muslim Hunting: David Horowitz's Antagonistic Career

Alex Galvan was in El Salvador teaching English to poor kids when he first learned about his ties to terrorism.

It was last March, during the patch of the calendar most universities cut out for spring break. But instead of beer-bonging his way through a beach week or posting up on the couch, the Florida State University political science and international relations major caught a flight south.

The trip wasn't unusual: Galvan is hardwired for giving. The Tampa native helped open a free clinic for the uninsured in Tallahassee and has taught poor Moroccans about the importance of clean water. Working young Salvadorans through their ABCs was merely his latest adventure.

Ellen Weinstein
Ellen Weinstein
In the late ’60s, David Horowitz (far right) was a member of the New Left and editor of Ramparts magazine.
Courtesy David Horowitz Freedom Center
In the late ’60s, David Horowitz (far right) was a member of the New Left and editor of Ramparts magazine.

Galvan touched down outside of the city of Zacatecoluca, located in a rural region still bleeding from years of civil war and poverty. A bout of malaria was already swimming through his bloodstream. Soon enough, armed thugs were asking about the American stranger. "Be careful," a family member familiar with the area had warned him before the trip, "and don't tell anyone you're Muslim."

Galvan touched down outside of the city of Zacatecoluca, located in a rural region still bleeding from years of civil war and poverty. A bout of malaria was already swimming through his bloodstream. Soon enough, armed thugs were asking about the American stranger. "Be careful," a family member familiar with the area had warned him before the trip, "and don't tell anyone you're Muslim."

But Galvan's problems wouldn't come from El Salvador. They would arrive via e-mail just a few days in, sent by panicked colleagues from the Muslim Student Association chapter at Florida State. The campus newspaper had run an ad claiming the MSA was aligned with terrorists. Galvan anxiously waited out the 30 minutes it took for his shoddy Internet connection to spit out a copy.

The ad climbed half the page, its top splashed with bold lettering: "Former Leaders of the Muslim Student Association (MSA): Where Are They Now?" Below were 10 names, some familiar echoes from the news. Each was followed by lines identifying their terrorist ties, words like "Al Qaeda," "Taliban," and "jihad" shouting at him.

"I took it almost as a personal threat, because it was citing how all these people were presidents of MSA, and I'm a president of MSA," Galvan recalls.

Florida State's Muslims were used to low-dose bigotry. This was panhandle Florida. Galvan regularly endured taunts as he made his Friday trek to the mosque dressed in traditional prayer robes. It was just part of life in the South. But the ad suggested that his group was a pilot program for the terrorists of tomorrow. Nothing could be further from the truth. Normally concerned with sponsoring beach-volleyball games and barbecues, the MSA's most political activity was a yearly Fast-a-Thon to raise awareness about hunger. Looking for a retraction or condemnation, Galvan tapped out angry e-mails to the paper and school administrators.

He was met with silence. The paper wouldn't print his full-length defense, nor, he says, could FSU president Eric Barron be bothered to return his calls: "It was really alarming to us that no one at our university was willing to step up. We seemed to be alone on this issue."

The ad did draw the attention of one group: the FBI. Two years earlier, a mosque near FSU had been torched. A few hours east, in Gainesville, Reverend Terry Jones had become a news-cycle fixture for periodically threatening to burn the Koran. The FBI wanted a sit-down, worried that some backcountry type might see the ad and reach for a gun.

"In the Muslim community, we've seen how far this goes," Galvan says. "People don't just kill a Muslim for no reason. They do it because they've developed an image in their head of Muslims as an evil threat to their lives and families."

But while Galvan and his friends were meeting with the FBI after spring break, a 74-year-old man in Sherman Oaks, California, was most likely gloating over his latest incitement of panic. Over the years, David Horowitz had turned baiting Muslims into a spectator sport. The Florida State ad was just another slash in his win column.

Like many of the '60s generation, David Horowitz changed his political coloring over time.

His career as an antagonist began in Berkeley with the budding New Left movement, which spliced lecture-hall idealism with radical street work. He edited Ramparts magazine, the '60s muckraking venture that printed the first exposés on the CIA's role in Vietnam, allowing him to rub shoulders with revolutionary royalty like writer Noam Chomsky and the Black Panthers.

But Horowitz's feelings for the left eventually soured. He spied hypocrisy in the liberals who decried Lyndon Johnson while trumpeting dictators like Ho Chi Minh. This growing unease came to a head in 1975, when Betty Van Patter's beaten corpse was pulled out of the San Francisco Bay. Horowitz believed that Van Patter, who'd kept the books at Ramparts, had been slain by Black Panthers trying to cover up an embezzlement scheme. The case was never solved.

By the 1980s, Horowitz had switched teams. He founded what would later become the Freedom Center in suburban Los Angeles, producing pamphlets that urged Republicans to take up arms. "The Art of Political War" called for the GOP to adopt an aggressive activist tone that would come to be its trademark. Karl Rove was a fan. The none-too-subtle "Hating Whitey" scorched liberals for unfairly blaming whites for the problems confronted by minorities.

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