On December 7 of last year, Mayor Carrie Saxon Perry of Hartford, Connecticut--the first African-American woman elected mayor of a major city, a progressive Democrat whose eloquent oratory and elegant haberdashery alike make her one of the state's most recognizable political figures--emceed the opening of a political campaign office on Main Street. To a substantial crowd gathered on the office steps, she enthusiastically brought on the candidate: "I want to introduce to you, possible--isn't that wonderful--the next President of the United States." Mayor Perry's candidate that day was not a fellow Democrat but Lenora Fulani, presidential aspirant of the New York-based New Alliance Party. Mounting the podium after Mayor Perry, Fulani delivered an impassioned address touching briefly on political corruption, police brutality, Haiti, capital punishment and David Duke. In short order she raised more than $7,000 in pledges from the crowd.
Such tributes to Fulani are becoming more and more familiar, particularly in cities like Hartford, where she and the NAP are little known except from fleeting stump speeches. But in cities like San Francisco and New York, where the NAP is a familiar presence, judgments of a different sort--"deceitful," "divisive," "political destroyers," "Moonies of the left echo with remarkable consistency from the lips of activists, black and white alike, who have encountered Fulani, the New Alliance Party and party leader Fred Newman through more than a speech or campaign fundraiser.
The New Alliance Party has long been controversial, thanks largely to its practice of recruiting members through group psychotherapy and to its alliances, over the years, with figures as diverse as the neo-fascist Lyndon LaRouche and the Rev. Al Sharpton. But in the past, the controversy could be confined, like the NAP itself, to the narrowest political margins. No more. As Mayor Perry's encouragement (stopping short of a formal endorsement) demonstrated, Fulani's status as an African-American woman and the utter absence of a consistent, clearly articulated progressive agenda among this year's leading Democratic presidential candidates make her a tempting protest vote in some decidedly mainstream quarters.
Fulani's minor-party ticket will appear on the November ballot in nearly all fifty states. Her campaign has qualified for more than $1 million in federal marching funds, surpassing Jerry Brown's. Week after week Fulani attracts impressive media coverage, from respectful CNN interviews to an all-trumpets-blaring front-page story in New York's Daily News, complete with a half-page photo ("The 624G Longshot," said the headline), when she was first awarded matching funds. In New Hampshire, where she made a one-time entry into the Democratic primary, she was featured prominently in the conservative Manchester Union-Leader. When Fulani nearly threw the New York primary into a tailspin by charging that Paul Tsongas had not met the requirements of New York's Byzantine ballot-access laws, she was credited by Newsday columnist Gail Collins with "exposing the slimy underside of our local politics." In recent weeks Fulani and the NAP have made headlines again, shouting down Bill Clinton in Harlem and Jerry Brown in Brooklyn for refusing to debate Democratic protest candidate Larry Agran, whom the NAP adopted after the New Hampshire primary.
It's time to take Lenora Fulani, Fred Newman and the NAP seriously; they are no clones of LaRouche but a national political phenomenon on their own terms. Much about the party remains weirdly laughable, convincing to no one but its adherents--like the Potemkin Village press conferences the party held during the New Hampshire primary campaign, packed with the NAP's own reporters, photographers and video crew. But the issues and dangers represented by Fulani and the NAP run far deeper; to understand them requires a journey across the fog-enshrouded frontiers between politics, psychology and accounting. Revolution, for
What's their real agenda? Scratch an activist or politician who has encountered the NAP and that uneasy question lies close to the surface. One answer comes from Fulani herself. Relaxed in a scantily furnished lower Manhattan office between speaking engagements, she gently mocks suggestions that she is just a puppet of NAP leader Newman--"So, you've met my guru?"--and goes on to deliver a two-word platform speech: "More democracy." Asked to elaborate, she lays out a series of proposals only slightly to the left of the League of Women Voters: universal voter registration, inclusion of minor-party candidates in presidential debates, revival of the Fairness Doctrine for broadcasters, "direct democracy" in the form of citizen referendums on national issues like the budget, and an all-encompassing but vaguely articulated "economic democracy." Try as one might to extract something more, that's as specific (or radical) as Fulani gets. An amiable, ingratiating Fred Newman, carrying the official title of campaign manager, is not much more precise: "We are building a major third party around the issue of democracy."
Another answer comes from Fulani's longer speeches and off-the-cuff remarks in press conferences. There it becomes clear what she is against--just about everyone else on the political scene. There, too, hints of conspiracy whisper through her drop-dead cool: A respected radical journalist who has criticized Newman and the NAP since the 1970s is an F.B.I. informant "directly motivated by the Democratic Party." A judge kept Paul Tsongas on the New York ballot only through a "fraud and fix from Mario Cuomo on down." The Trilateral Commission has a stranglehold on national political life. The U.S. economy was "assassinated" the moment the nation and its allies abandoned the gold standard. (Right-wing populists have long shared an obsession with returning to the gold standard, supposedly freeing the economy from the scheming hands of international bankers and financiers.)
But Fulani's and the NAP's real agenda is most clearly evident in the slow, steady growth, over more than twenty years, of what once seemed an insignificant crackpot organization. The NAP's history begins around 1970, one of the many by-ways on the convoluted and gloomy circuit of post-1960s revolutionary sects. A tiny radical collective on Manhattan's Upper West Side got the idea of organizing political activity around a profit-making experimental encounter therapy practice. Eventually dubbed social therapy, the scheme proved both an effective recruiting tactic and lucrative business, generating steady streams of adherents and revenue. (Much of this early history was first recounted in detail by Dennis King, who in 1977 wrote a prescient expose of the then-minuscule movement for a West Side community newspaper.)
The intellectual and emotional leader of that original collective was Fred Newman, a Korean War vet who'd grown up in the Bronx, held a Ph.D. in the philosophy of science from Stanford and abruptly turned to Marxism in the mid-1960s. Newman and his small band of followers--physically occupying a communal apartment, intellectually occupying the tumultuous intersection of confrontational sectarian politics and radical psychology--became obsessed with their own idiosyncratic vision of a psychotherapy that would challenge not just individual neurosis but structural injustice in society.
Newman and his original associates (all of them white and most of them women) were political hard-liners who argued that only a revolution of the working class could resolve the individual psychic crisis; at the same time, like practitioners of est and other distinctly un-Marxist products of the nascent human potential movement, they believed that the road to their revolutionary new age lay in an extreme version of confronting the oppressor within, stripping the ego of its bourgeois, individualistic detritus. "There are no private feelings, only social relationships," declared one early social therapy handbook. Replacing "bourgeois" relationships with new revolutionary patterns of consciousness meant that virtually every aspect of existing life--sexual orientation and partners, domestic arrangements, employment--could be challenged at the whim of the therapist, with accommodation a condition of remaining in therapy. Newman referred to himself at the time as a "benevolent despot."
Much of the "revolution" urged upon clients involved advancing the business interests of social therapy itself--recruiting adherents among friends, lovers and neighbors, often dangling before them the possibility of readily available sex, and making large financial donations to the movement's work. There was overt political work as well, again in accordance with Newman and his associates, who by the mid-1970s formed their own grandly named International Workers Party, its leadership indistinguishable from the social therapy collective. Soliciting funds on the street and becoming a growing presence at neighborhood meetings, the Newmanites (then numbering perhaps thirty committed members) moved in and out of coalitions and vicious factional struggles with other marginal groups. The most notable coalition was with Lyndon LaRouche, already well on his journey to fascism and feared on the left for his followers' history of violent thuggery. Newman embraced LaRouche in 1974 as an ally and mentor, and then broke with him several months later. Around the same time, members started running for local political office on an independent slate. In 1977 one social therapy client-turned-practitioner, Nancy Ross, managed to win an Upper West Side school board seat after reassuring neighbors, falsely, that the by-then widely disliked International Workers Party had been disbanded. That success led the Newmanites further into electoral politics, where they finally emerged in 1979 as the neutral-sounding New Alliance Party.
One New Yorker who encountered Fred Newman and social therapy in the early years was Lenora Branch Fulani, who had been raised in Pennsylvania and was earning a Ph.D. in developmental psychology at the City University of New York (CUNY). By her own account, sometime in the late 1970s she heard Newman lecture and "was very intrigued by the progressiveness of the politics guiding his thought." Just as Newman had been while in graduate school two decades earlier, Fulani was struck by the discordance between her own working-class upbringing and her present life in the academy. She joined Newman for group therapy, ultimately leaving a black lesbian Gestalt therapist she'd seen for years and going to work for the Newmanites' social therapy clinic full time. She trained as a social therapist, volunteered her remaining free time to the NAP and appeared on the New York ballot as a candidate for lieutenant governor in 1984. " Social therapy was this wonderful breath of fresh air," Fulani says today. In the mid-1980s, she and one of the original collective members took over what had been the New York Institute for Social Therapy's satellite clinic in Harlem, treating clients privately on a sliding-scale basis.
When the Newmanites metamorphosed into the NAP in 1979, they did more than adopt a new name. They quickly adopted an overt political agenda far more likely to win allies--and donations--than their neo-Trotskyist rantings of the preceding decade. It started with ballot access; New York's notoriously restrictive election laws made the issue a sure way to win approval and donations from civil libertarians and conventional do-gooders. One of the more common Manhattan experiences of the early 1980s involved being approached by polite, well-dressed individuals and asked to sign a card or petition helping the NAP get on the ballot in the name of democracy, and then being hit up for a financial contribution. At the same time, the NAP adopted an electoral strategy that Newman and Fulani eventually called (with the same grandiosity that led to his baptizing a ragtag commune the International Workers Party) "Two Roads Are Better Than One": supporting the party's own electoral line but also the campaign of any Democrat who'd accept their endorsement. Although some New York Democrats who were awarded the NAP's support eyed the party uneasily--like Assemblyman Frank Barbaro, who ran a "Dump Koch" mayoral campaign in 1981--the dedication of its workers proved an often irresistible offer.
African-Americans also fit into that original NAP strategy. Starting in the early 1970s, Newman and his then all-white collective embraced the notion that while they would form an intellectual vanguard, the black community would produce "organic" leaders of its own [see Adolph Reed, "The Rise of Louis Farrakhan," January 21 and 28, 1991]. In practice, that theory justified Newman's and the NAP's penchant for associating with conservative, demagogic black leaders little interested in independent organizing. The late Brooklyn Democratic machine boss Vander Beatty, eventually jailed for election fraud, was one ally. Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam was another, all the more so after Farrakhan's famous denunciation of Judaism as a "gutter religion" led Jesse Jackson to take two steps back. (Farrakhan's anti-Semitism is "a delicate question," says Fred Newman. "Does he have a subjective anti-Jewish attitude? No. Is he anti-Semitic in some sense? Well, who's exempt?" Indeed, Newman says, it is Jewish and left attacks on Farrakhan that "produce anti-Semitism in the black community.") The Rev. Al Sharpton became a particularly close ally when the NAP offered its members as credibility-builders for Sharpton's Howard Beach marches, and together with Sharpton the party promoted Tawana Brawley long after her tale of rape and degradation by white assailants was proved a fabrication. ("We knew 'Rev' before the media found him," Fulani boasts.) Today, Sharpton rents office space from the group and is even on the Newmanite extended payroll, holding a $12,000-per-year consultant's contract with the movement's teen talent agency. Fulani accompanied Sharpton on a high-profile trip to Haiti last fall.
In each case, the NAP picked an ally deeply opposed to values the party claimed to espouse (feminism and particularly gay rights, which made its way into NAP slogans even though social therapists had formerly attempted to "convert" gay clients) and dedicated more to empire building and glomming the media spotlight than to rank-and-file political participation. Each was deeply committed to entrepreneurial capitalism in the black community rather than to any version of socialism, and, most important, each built an African-American base on the politics of racial and ethnic division.
For the NAP, the watershed year was 1984, when Jesse Jackson first ran for President. In keeping with Newman's "Two Roads" dictum, the party supported Jackson (whom Newman had ridiculed just a few months earlier in explicitly sexual terms) but also ran a presidential candidate in the general election--a black socialist-turned-NAP member named Dennis Serrette. Serrette was on the ballot in thirty-three states and received 35,000 votes. A year later Serrette broke with the NAP, giving an embittered account to The Jackson Advocate of his years in the party. He described his frustration with what he termed the party's all-white leadership and the control he said Newman imposed on him through social therapy. The NAP's response was a $2 million defamation lawsuit in 1988 against the Advocate, Mississippi's only black-owned newspaper. The case was ultimately thrown out of court.
In the early and mid-1980s the NAP began seeking ballot status around the country, sometimes (as in North Carolina and Mississippi) moving its existing members into a community just long enough to qualify to run for some local office and conduct a fundraising canvass. Social therapy offices and party organizing drives were established in Washington, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta and other cities. Encountering the often daunting ballot access requirements imposed on alternative parties by two-party state legislatures, the NAP sued, time and again, occasionally convincing courts to cast aside restrictions. In 1985, shortly after Jesse Jackson founded his Rainbow Coalition, the NAP started its own lobbying arm called the Rainbow Alliance, later the Rainbow Lobby (about which more later). In 1988, thanks to an ever-larger pool of therapy clients-turned-volunteers and an ever-larger pool of contributions, the NAP managed to qualify for matching funds and place its new presidential candidate, Lenora Fulani, on the ballot in all fifty states.
An accomplished public speaker with a sure instinct for the soundbite, Fulani became national chairwoman of the NAP as well as its presidential candidate. In 1988 she traveled everywhere with an imposing security squad of African-American women--her own version of Farrakhan's Fruit of Islam--hinting at once of black nationalism, gay pride and eerie robotic conformity. (This year, the security squad is multiracial.) After loudly supporting an often-uncomfortable Jackson campaign again in the primary (NAPers, Jackson complained, "would often trail the campaign and leave the impression that it [the NAP] was our organization"), Fulani went on to run on the NAP ticket and won 240,000 votes in the general election. This was a considerable performance in the world of minor-party challenges, where the standard on the left is Eugene V. Debs's 920,000 votes in 1920. "In '88 we were out to demonstrate our level of organization," Fulani says, adding that even the party's worst enemies would have to concede its success on that point. If nothing else, that performance--which owed as much to Fulani's impassioned manner as to the accelerating pace of fundraising--guaranteed her place as the NAP's premier representative. Today, NAP publications feature iconic treble-portraits of Farrakhan, Sharpton and Fulani. The Cash Machine
Whatever their flaws, Newman and Fulani both understand that American political parties exist principally to raise and spend money. Behind the NAP's growing visibility lies a carefully engineered cash machine, founded in the social therapy practice. The party's deliberate strategy of giving campaign contributions the coloration of psychic healing was demonstrated one recent evening in Brooklyn. There, the NAP gathered some 250 of the faithful for a report on New Hampshire and, more important, for an intense fundraising pitch. "The more you give, the more you grow," Fulani intoned. "Take it out of your rent. It feels very, very good."
Party members and supporters make their legitimate contributions to NAP campaigns. At the same time, social therapy clients--among them, all members of the party--pay their fees to Newman and the other social therapists, who turn a portion of those fees over as their own contribution to the party and its affiliates. That's the basic framework. Over the years, though, this cash machine has grown increasingly complex, spawning a series of intertwined real estate holdings and for-profit businesses--an ad agency, a law firm, a publishing house, a theater company, an accounting practice and a music agency, among others--all run out of the same cluster of Manhattan offices, all employing therapy clients and party members who in turn channel their often-meager earnings back to the party. Each of those businesses also serves as a recruitment vehicle for the party itself.
The Fulani campaign's 1991 financial disclosure records show office managers, receptionists and other low-level employees of Newmanite businesses making contributions that are exorbitant by the standards of most people in such positions, in many cases hundreds of dollars a year. And that's just to one campaign; many NAP employees also contribute to campaigns for lower office and to associated outfits like the Rainbow Lobby. The Fulani campaign's on-the-books political workers are paid scantily (from $180 to $250 per week) but like other Newmanite employees manage relatively high-rolling contributions.
It is a bewildering, ever-escalating shell game, a leveraged buyout of the campaign finance system: Those donations from employees and therapy clients help the party and campaigns qualify for federal matching funds, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of the matching funds are funneled from the party back to the businesses through the purchase of their services. According to federal campaign finance filings, in the latter half of 1991 at least 35 percent of the Fulani campaign's expenditures went to those NAP-related businesses. How much money goes into the pockets of the actual business owners-- Newman and his closest associates--is impossible to determine from public records.
What's certain is that the New Alliance Party is big business. According to a recent report in New York Newsday, the complete cluster of NAP-related businesses employs some fifty-six people and brings in at least $3.5 million a year. The East Side Institute for Social Therapy alone reports sales in excess of $400,000; by an account in its own newsletter, at least $240,000 a year above and beyond therapy fees comes in through telephone canvassing by therapy adherents--donations that, because they are used to bolster a for-profit business, are not subject to the open-books requirements of charities and nonprofits. The Rainbow Lobby brings in $1.5 million a year, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of that on other NAP-related businesses.
This remarkably efficient scheme skirts the edges of federal election law. Campaign finance regulations clearly require that no individual make a campaign contribution "on behalf of another." The rules are designed to prevent, among other things, the old practice of executives and politicos funneling contributions through employees. The NAP's cash machine may run afoul of this prohibition. Are social therapists making a campaign contribution "on behalf of another" when they turn over part of their therapy earnings from clients involved in the party who agree to fees in part because they know how the money will be spent? Are employees of businesses owned by party principals making their outsized contributions "on behalf of another"? Is the New Alliance Party in effect "double dipping," taking campaign contributions from supporters within legal limits and then funneling additional contributions in excess of the public limits through businesses and cultural activities?
In a conventional political party, one that does not function through a high degree of psychological pressure on members and therapy clients, the answer might be ambiguous. Republicans and Democrats, after all, have their own semiofficial polling consultants, law firms and ad agencies. Newman himself points to Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition, "which has a whole network of interlocking businesses.... I don't see how it is avoidable." But the NAP is not a conventional political organization. Except on paper, the Newmanites' party is indistinguishable from social therapy and the numerous other businesses to which campaign funds are directed and from which campaign contributions flow. The question has never been properly examined by a government agency. The Federal Elections Commission has certified only that the Fulani campaign qualifies for matching funds by raising at least $5,000 in contributions of $250 or under in each of at least twenty states. But the relationships among various NAP-Newmanite businesses, and the question of whether NAP contributors are making a contribution "on behalf of another," have never been considered: "No one's ever filed a complaint," says F.E.C. spokesman Scott Moxley.
How the NAP spends its undocumented petty cash might also be worth looking into. At a recent Jerry Brown rally in Manhattan's Union Square, a white organizer was observed paying black homeless men to heckle Brown on behalf of Larry Agran and wave NAP signs. Disruption and Deceit
Fiscal manipulation is far less dangerous than another NAP tactic: confrontation and disruption of meaningful, effective organizations on the left and in the African-American community, and profoundly antidemocratic attacks on anyone deemed an opponent.
The NAP handles its critics and presumed political opponents with libel suits, smear campaigns and outright harassment. A New York journalist who writes critically of the NAP is recognized on the street by party canvassers, who chase her down the block shouting, "We don't want you in our democracy!" Representative Mervyn Dymally, a reliably liberal member of the Congressional Black Caucus, is reviled as a "jackal," an "accessory to murder" and an ally of Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko after a fact-finding trip to that nation. When Dymally hits back in speeches denouncing the NAP and the Rainbow Lobby, he's sued (unsuccessfully) for $2 million. The NAP's newspaper brands writer Ken Lawrence of The Jackson Advocate a "government agent."
Then there are the stories that surface with remarkable consistency throughout the NAP's history, stories of stable activist organizations overrun by blocs of party members who attempt to steer the group into the Newmanite orbit. Sometimes they succeed, and sometimes the only result is a bitter and destructive factional fight. Newman, naturally, denies any deliberate strategy: "Believe me, we are not out to piss off the left." But the stories are legion. In 1987 members of New York's large chapter of New Jewish Agenda, a broad-based, diverse peace-and-justice coalition, noted an influx of Jewish NAP members and social therapy clients. The NAPers actively tried to recruit N.J.A. members for social therapy or the party, even inviting them on dates in a manner reminiscent of the 1970s, when social therapists used sex as a recruiting tool. They urged the organization to associate itself with the Fulani campaign, something longtime N.J.A. members were not about to do. Meeting after meeting the number of NAP members grew, and more and more time was taken up debating the extreme anti-Zionist proposals of the NAP members (at various times Newman has called fellow Jews "dirty ' "self-righteous dehumanizers" and "murderers of people of color") rather than attending to the immediate business at hand. Finally, N.J.A. leaders concluded that the NAP was trying to either destroy the chapter or take over, and reluctantly, publicly, voted to expel twenty party members after a hearing.
Similar stories arise from every community in which the NAP has established a base. In California, NAP activists have deeply divided that state's longstanding Peace and Freedom Party, commandeering the San Francisco chapter while battling with others. Groups as diverse as ACT UP, the All-African Unity Party and the American Public Health Association report similar experiences. During the New Hampshire primary, in which Fulani ran on the Democratic line and garnered just 402 votes, a grass-roots coalition in that state, New Hampshire Citizen Action, was startled to find the NAP hijacking a coalition-sponsored town meeting: Out-of-state party activists somehow acquired a large bloc of tickets reserved for New Hampshire's poor.
When the NAP can't take over an organization or movement, it resorts to deception, creating a front group that is almost indistinguishable in name from a more broad-based and respected rival, sometimes even holding meetings at competing times. The most famous example is the Rainbow Lobby, which reminds donors in unreadably small footnotes to its fliers that it is not affiliated with Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition. The Rainbow Lobby manages to raise more than $1 million a year, largely through canvassing by social therapy clients and NAP supporters, making it one of the wealthiest public-interest groups in Washington. While it does engage in some ineffectual lobbying on such issues as Haiti and electoral reform, much of the money is channeled back to party campaigns and affiliated businesses.
Another example of NAP's marketing-by-deception occurred in California's East Bay. An Asian-American organization published a newspaper about violence toward Asians called Break the Silence. The NAP, trying to make inroads into the Asian community, put out its own sheet, called Breaking the Silence. Sometimes the scams are darkly comical. Like the time the NAP sought financial donations and endorsements for a dinner honoring A.W. Singham (a revered CUNY professor and specialist in Caribbean history who was a member of The Nation's editorial board until his death last year) without telling Singham anything about it. Like the "gallery" that enables the NAP to present its lower Manhattan headquarters as the Castillo Cultural Center: Art covers only one wall in a lobby, behind which are extensive social therapy and business offices. Like the hornswoggling of Richard Serra, Christo and other artists into donating their work for a Castillo Cultural Center auction without once letting them in on the event's real sponsor and beneficiary.
Such deceitful and disruptive tactics are not aimed exclusively at the white left. In New York in 1990, for instance, NAP challenged the ballot petitions of an independent black campaign slate, the All-African Unity Party, claiming they lacked adequate signatures. The A.A.U. P. ultimately remained on the ballot, but its resources were badly drained by the confrontation. This year Lenora Fulani publicly derided organizers of a national conference in Washington on independent black politics as being "on a mission of a white racist Democratic party." And Fulani regularly refers to Jesse Jackson as "a complete sellout--Jesse sold his soul for a show on CNN."
The disruption of important black community institutions extends even into the realm of neighborhood-based social services. Just ask residents of South Philadelphia about the recent experience of Horizon House, a respected, long-established mental health center serving that largely African-American neighborhood. Newman's followers adopted Horizon House's thirty-two-bed inpatient drug-and-alcohol rehab program as a proving ground for their theories, without telling the center's administrators. It all started with a white staff member of the program named Jim Horton. Horton, then residential manager at Horizon House, became deeply involved in social therapy and the NAP (ultimately running for City Council in 1991), explaining to fellow workers that he rode his bicycle to work rather than buy a car so he could donate more money to the party. Two years ago Horton introduced social therapy techniques to his clients (most of them chronic crack users, most of them African-Americans) and to other staff members, according to both Horizon House officials and Fred Newman.
On the surface, social therapy seemed intriguing: It stressed pride in the African-American heritage, encouraging clients to see themselves as powerful individuals who could exercise some control over the forces around them. Soon, social therapy came to dominate the Horizon House residential rehabilitation program (just one of many Horizon House projects, and the only one in which social therapy was practiced). In turn Horizon House was peddled by the Newmanites as a success story. Newman himself made three trips to Philadelphia to speak at Horizon House and the program was featured in the East Side Institute for Social Therapy's 1991 fundraising mailer. The Newmanites made astounding claims for their cure rate in Philadelphia: 85 percent of the program's graduates were said to be drug-and alcohol-free six months after graduation, with half holding social service jobs and the other half employed or enrolled in G.E.D. programs. "It was an immense success," Newman insists today.
Any drug program achieving an 85 percent success rate would win its designer the Nobel Prize. But that estimate proved illusory. In fact, say participants, the social therapists' "intolerance" for anyone who was less than enthusiastic about the approach--and the berating of skeptics in group therapy-- drove many residents out of the program. According to Horizon House, in 1989 the drug program graduated fourteen individuals--all people who'd successfully completed a residency of six to twelve months. But in the entire two years that followed--the heyday of social therapy at Horizon House-- the program graduated just half that, with a higher than average recidivism rate.
Finally, last October, Horizon House's management fired Horton and banished the practice of social therapy from the residential rehab program. In a fashion that caught the apolitical Horizon House staff completely unawares, the Newmanites responded with a picket line and weeks of angry, abusive telephone calls from all over the country demanding Horton's reinstatement.
Clearly, Horizon House was one instance in which social therapy radically failed its largely African-American clients. What's more, many at Horizon House came to feel that what happened there was no accident. Rather, they saw the Newmanites' approach as an attempt to seize control of an established, reputable program in order to advance the NAP's philosophy and interests. At Horizon House the social therapy promoted by Lenora Fulani as the most effective tool for helping African-Americans "break with our adjustment . . . to our social role as victims" made victims of African-Americans who'd turned to it for help. Psyche Killers?
The experience of Horizon House shows the intimate connection between social therapy and the NAP's most frightening political tactics. The party, Newman and Fulani can't be understood without understanding social therapy, the very heart of their belief system and political practice. Intellectually, the movement is linked to Lev Vygotsky, a founder of Soviet psychiatry who criticized Freud and Piaget for their individualized, apolitical understanding of cognitive development. Newman and his followers--in common, it should be said, with many more conventional psychologists and educators, particularly those contending with the impact of race, class and environment--embrace Vygotsky. Newman and Lois Holzman, one of the original Upper West Side collective members, have even edited a Vygotsky anthology, to be published this year by the respected British house Routledge.
Now take Vygotsky's theories of social development one step further. What could be better than a therapy that gives central consideration to the dynamics of oppression, that leads clients from depression, addiction and loneliness to active social and political engagement? In that way, social therapy is opposed to the confessional "I am helpless before my addiction" approach of Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs. "I was moving from a working-class black family into a white, affluent profession and experiencing immense confusion and conflict as a result," recalls one former client. "Having a therapist raise those issues was of immense value--at first."
The NAP thrives where political chaos is matched by a vacuum of genuine alternative.
At first. But according to every independent account of social therapy since Newman and his followers started out, it often--at least for those clients deemed likely prospects for active party membership--turns out to be something else: a tool for making isolated, distressed individuals totally dependent on Newman and the party for all sense of self-esteem and community. For despite its ostensible left ideology, social therapy often functions in reality in a fashion remarkably similar to coercive groups like Synanon. Practically speaking, all such organizations work in the same way: Separate the person from his or her past. Therapists and groups of clients berate individuals for their past behavior and values, pushing them to the point of breakdown and then offering relief in the form of acceptance by the new therapeutic "family." Continued acceptance and continued self-esteem depend on the embrace of this new "family," which in turn means volunteer work or financial contribution to the vertically integrated therapy empire. Other identifications--whether with feminism, the gay community, independent activist organizations--are derided as bourgeois and self-limiting. "The gay community as a separate entity keeps you from being gay:' Fred Newman tells one client in a dialogue included in his most recent book.
Some former social therapy clients describe being asked to inform the NAP of their whereabouts at all times so they could be contacted for party activity, or to hand their children over to the party's care in order to devote more time to politics. Dennis Serrette has recounted how particular clients would be targeted: "The group converged on the victim, who generally broke down in tears.... Topics ranged from the most personal aspects of one's life, to the failure to adequately give oneself to the organization." Adding to such psychic manipulation is the eerie, nonstop reverence for Newman himself. NAP's books, newspapers and journals are replete with tributes to the Great Man; quotes from his plays, poetry and speeches; praise for his sexual choices (Newman's present involvement with a party member is described in the movement magazine Practice as "a hot, sexy relationship without rape") and political wisdom. In a foreword to a collection of Newman's theoretical articles, Fulani calls him "the first person to teach me anything seriously useful about politics and/or psychology"; his photo graces ads for a comedy troupe performing at the Castillo Center. "When Newman was happy, everyone was happy. When he was angry, everyone was terrified," Serrette testified during the Jackson Advocate libel trial.
The all-encompassing political and psychological culture of the NAP is a classic and chilling example of what Robert Jay Lifton calls "ideological totalism"--"an extremist meeting ground between people and ideas" in which "the individual encounters a profound threat to his personal autonomy." It's an issue far broader than the NAP alone. The left has rarely confronted the dangers posed by psychological totalitarians in the human potential movement. Even when we disapprove of Werner Erhard and other New Age gurus, we're nonetheless inclined to view their presence with the polite if grumbling tolerance of neighbors on the same avenue of opposition culture. In fact, the alliance between political and psychological countercultures was almost certain, sooner or later, to produce a Fred Newman: someone who could join the human potential movement's appeal to desperate and isolated individuals eager for a quick fix and instant community with emotionally resonant outward symbols of social justice. The Big Con and the Easy Mark
So what is their real agenda? In one sense, the NAP's "real" agenda--Fulani's vaguely reformist positions, the party's articulated ideology--doesn't matter. What matters, what NAP is about, is the appearance of constant activity: the self-perpetuating frenzy of recruitment and fundraising, the endless unread press releases, the books and magazines and plays and films produced by the converted, for the converted or soon-to-be-converted. Enemies are manufactured or exaggerated to prove the party's importance. The party's raison d'etre is twofold: to massage constantly the egos of its otherwise marginal leadership, particularly Newman and secondarily Fulani; and to keep supporters convinced that something important is occurring every minute, to allow not a moment to pass in which doubt might enter.
It is necessary, however, to maintain perspective. Fulani, Newman and NAP have no mass following. They claim 10,000 members, but if campaign finance forms are any indication, a few hundred hard-core activists is a more accurate estimate. But at the same time, several aspects of the Newmanites' campaign make them a uniquely threatening phenomenon on the political scene. There is, first of all, Fulani herself. Any minor party political candidate with the personal charisma and political skill to win support from mainstream black Democrats like Hartford's Mayor Perry is a symbolic force to be reckoned with. In screaming for Larry Agran's admission to Democratic debates or challenging ballot-access restrictions, NAP and Fulani are hypocritical and self-serving; these are the same people, after all, who will go to court to keep anyone off the ballot whom they deem an enemy, whether Paul Tsongas or a rival black political movement. But they also underscore precisely how local, state and national party machines have strangled the life from electoral politics for decades. In that sense, NAP is poised to benefit from the same inchoate outrage against the political system now tapped by Jerry Brown.
What's more, the NAP as an organization is fundamentally different from most political marginals in several important ways. It has a steady, autonomous source of money (the social therapy business), and its followers are far better integrated into the mainstream of American life, with no Moonie-like flower sales, no Charlie Manson eyes, no anti-Semitism loosely cloaked in ravings about the Queen of England in the style of LaRouche.
Wealthy, well-organized, possessed of a conventionally comprehensible overt platform and a clear strategy: Altogether, there's no reason to think that the NAP will stop growing. Indeed, the party thrives in precisely those situations in which political chaos is matched by a vacuum of genuine, well-rooted alternatives--in short, the current state of national electoral politics. In that sense, the party's new visibility is a distinct rebuke to the democratic left. The NAP and Fulani offer the false but alluring appearance of a symbolically charged and emotionally outraged response to the feelings of exclusion from the political process many Americans harbor. "She addresses issues that affect my people, and no one else seems to be doing that," a politically experienced Hartford Board of Education member named Courtney Gardner, who raised hundreds of dollars for Fulani, explained to me.
Of course, it is an empty symbol. In twenty years on the political map, the NAP has used contributions and the labor of volunteers not to redistribute political power but to bankroll its own intertwined enterprises. It is, in fact, more parasitical than political: diverting the energy and funds of often well-intentioned supporters and poisoning the efforts of those it can't deceive.
In a year when the Democratic presidential nominee may well be someone who golfs at a whites-only club and is willing to throw the switch of the electric chair, Lenora Fulani's appeal will continue to grow. But add up the ledger: psychic terrorism aimed at party members, disruption and intimidation of opponents, elevation of political demagogues, hoodwinking of the public, and an ideology teetering between right and left, between provocative symbolism and head-spinning paranoia. One cannot support Fulani, whether with a vote or a contribution, without aiding the jackboot movement behind her.