Editor's note: A longer version of this article first appeared at The American Spectator.
In his speech at the Republican convention last week, Ben Carson made a statement that raised some eyebrows. "Now, one of the things that I have learned about Hillary Clinton is that one of her heroes, her mentors, was Saul Alinsky," said Carson. "And her senior thesis was about Saul Alinsky. This was someone she greatly admired…."
So far so good. Nothing most political junkies haven't heard before.
"And let me tell you something about Saul Alinsky," continued Carson. "He wrote a book called Rules for Radicals. It acknowledges Lucifer, the original radical who gained his own kingdom. Now think about that."
That certainly got a lot of people thinking.
"This is our nation where our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, talks about certain inalienable rights that come from our Creator, a nation where our Pledge of Allegiance says we are 'One nation under God,'" added Carson. "This is a nation where every coin in our pockets and every bill in our wallet says, 'In God We Trust.' So are we willing to elect someone as president who has as their role model somebody who acknowledges Lucifer? Think about that."
In response, the liberal media predictably went bonkers.
"Ben Carson rails against Hillary Clinton, Lucifer," howled the headline in USA Today.
"Ben Carson Ties Hillary Clinton to Lucifer as GOP Swaps Campaign for Witch Trial," scowled the Daily Beast.
"She's one-degree of separation from a devil-lover!" wailed the Daily Mail.
I must say that I shouldn't be too critical of the liberal media's apoplectic reaction, because I was likewise incredulous the first time I heard this claim.
It was 2007, and I was finishing a book on the faith of Hillary Clinton. One morning I heard a local radio talk-show host make an amazing claim: that Alinsky's 1971 classic Rules for Radicals began with a dedication to Satan. Oh, I can't believe that, I said. I was angry at the host. This kind of hyperbole gives conservative talk-radio a bad name!
And yet, it couldn't be hard to check. I had better do so as author of a biography of Hillary Clinton in which I had a section on Hillary and Saul Alinsky. As part of the promotion for the book, I would likely appear on this same talk-show, and the host surely would ask me about the Lucifer acknowledgment.
I quickly emailed one of the staffers at our library at Grove City College. Did we have a copy of Rules for Radicals on our shelves? We sure did. Please pull it, I said. I'll be right there.
I opened the book and couldn't believe my eyes. Alinsky offered this:
Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history … the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom–Lucifer.
Yes, there it was. Saul Alinsky commenced his magnum opus–the one for which he is hailed by the left–with an acknowledgement of the Devil.
Like Ben Carson, the reaction I've had when pointing this out to liberals has been one of disbelief. And If I'm able to get them to look and concede what Alinsky wrote, they retreat to handy excuses. "Oh, that was tongue-in-cheek," one liberal confidently told me.
Really? I asked her. How did she know that? She didn't.
Now, a crucial clarification: I don't think it's technically accurate to say that Rules for Radicals is "dedicated" to Lucifer, as is often claimed by Alinsky's detractors. Looking at the book carefully, it appears to be dedicated to one person: There is a page that says simply "To Irene," and nothing else. On the page prior to the Irene dedication is a list of "Personal Acknowledgements," where Alinsky lists four friends: Jason Epstein, Cicely Nichols, Susan Rabiner, and Georgia Harper. Following the Irene page is another page, the controversial one, in which Alinsky offers three quotes, the first from a Rabbi Hillel, the second from Thomas Paine, and the third from Alinsky himself, giving his nod to Lucifer. One well-known fact-checker source (Snopes) describes this as "three epigraphs on an introductory page." I suppose that's an acceptable way to characterize it. And the third of the three is an "epigraph" (if you will) to Satan.
But we shouldn't let Alinsky off the Lucifer hook so easily.
Alinsky, for one, was asked about the Lucifer acknowledgment in his March 1972 interview with Playboy magazine near the end of his life, a swan-song that every Alinsky aficionado knows about. Here's the exchange, which came at the very end of the interview:
PLAYBOY: Having accepted your own mortality, do you believe in any kind of afterlife?
ALINSKY: Sometimes it seems to me that the question people should ask is not "Is there life after death?" but "Is there life after birth?" I don't know whether there's anything after this or not. I haven't seen the evidence one way or the other and I don't think anybody else has either. But I do know that man's obsession with the question comes out of his stubborn refusal to face up to his own mortality. Let's say that if there is an afterlife, and I have anything to say about it, I will unreservedly choose to go to hell.
ALINSKY: Hell would be heaven for me. All my life I've been with the have-nots. Over here, if you're a have-not, you're short of dough. If you're a have-not in hell, you're short of virtue. Once I get into hell, I'll start organizing the have-nots over there.
PLAYBOY: Why them?
ALINSKY: They're my kind of people.
For the record, when I Googled the Alinsky-Playboy interview this week I found the aforementioned excerpt posted at (among other places) a Satanist website. There, the author, in an article titled, "Saul D. Alinsky: A role model for left-wing Satanists," writes of the exchange: "I'm not sure whether Alinsky really was a Satanist/Luciferian of some sort or whether he was just joking. He may well have been just joking."
Maybe. Pretty funny, eh?
When fact-checking Ben Carson's statement on this, PolitiFact added this caveat: "The rest of the book [Rules for Radicals] includes no real discussion of Lucifer or Satan, though it does talk about the way people demonize political opponents so that others see their opponents as 'devils.'"
One of Alinsky's most infamous rules is to isolate the target. This was the thrust of Alinsky's final and most egregious rule for radicals (no. 13): "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it." He advised cutting off the support network of the person and isolating the person from sympathy. He cruelly urged going after people rather than institutions because people hurt faster than institutions.
To be sure, Rules for Radicals is interspersed with a sprinkling of Biblical/church references beyond its hefty radical politics and juvenile profanity. My Grove City College colleague, Lee Wishing, interprets this as Alinsky's method of trying to reach the younger '60s generation.
"He wanted to give them meaning," says Wishing. It was as if Alinsky had penned the radical's version of a purpose-driven life. On the last page of Alinsky's manual, the godfather of community organizing imparts his wisdom on his army of organizers: "The human cry … is one for a meaning, a purpose for life–a cause to live for and if need be die for…. This is literally the revolution of the soul." Alinsky said that the young "are searching for an answer, at least for a time, to man's greatest question, 'Why am I here?'" In short, observes Wishing, Alinsky was telling his followers to find life's meaning and salvation in a "conflict-based community organizing."
Wishing's take is that Alinsky was actually a "metaphysical rebel, a spiritual man who, whether he realized it or not, was trying to address man's fallen nature." Thus, Alinsky gets his opening acknowledgment (to Lucifer) wrong. Says Wishing: "Jesus is the kingdom winner, the real revolutionary…. The fatal flaw of Alinsky's book is literally the fatal flaw of mankind: failure to recognize that Jesus has defeated Satan and, that although this world is fallen, our hope is in Him–following Him faithfully, the True Radical, not Satan."
Wishing's take is insightful, and also charitable to Alinsky.
That said, Rules for Radicals is not a charitable book. Any Scripture references are deep-sixed by far more frequently used words like target, weapon, threat, pressure, tactic, revolution, rebellion, enemy, the devil (albeit not in a Satan-worshipping way), and, most of all, attack, attack, and attack. It sure isn't an epistle of forgiveness and grace. This isn't the Peace Prayer of St. Francis.
What Alinsky advised, no matter how many Biblical quotations he sprinkled it with, certainly wasn't the Christian gospel.
Speaking of which, and bringing this back to Hillary Clinton, it's thus ironic how Hillary Clinton met Saul Alinsky.
A young Hillary Rodham was first introduced to Alinsky in Chicago by the Rev. Don Jones, the liberal "social justice" Methodist youth minister who was a mentor to her in the early 1960s in Park Ridge, Illinois at Park Ridge United Methodist Church. He's the one who started tugging Hillary to the left and away from her father's "Goldwater Girl" roots. Hillary would later describe Alinsky as a "great seducer" of young minds, as did Jones, which was apparently the reason that Jones brought his wide-eyed teens to meet with the radical whose politics Jones liked.
The Rev. Jones's point in bringing the youngsters to Alinsky could not have been religious, since Alinsky was a well-known and committed agnostic Jew who proudly declared his "independence" from any affiliation. The youth minister's goal was social-political. Like Jones, Alinsky was dedicated to advancing the interests of the Proletariat, or what Alinsky called the "Have-Nots."
For Hillary, that first encounter was just the beginning.
Hillary Rodham headed off to the Northeast for college. In 1968, Hillary wrote her undergraduate thesis at Wellesley on–of all subjects–Saul Alinsky and his tactics. She quite literally studied Alinsky, and not merely distantly from the pages of a book.
At Wellesley, Hillary sought out Alinsky. She was thinking about her place in the world. She envisioned greater things, and thus decided that she needed more than a bachelor's degree–namely, a degree in law. She shared that opinion with no less than Saul Alinsky himself, directly asking his advice. And her outreach paid dividends. Quite remarkably, the veteran radical offered Hillary a job in the spring of 1969 as a community organizer. He also that year re-released his classic manifesto, Reveille for Radicals, updated with a new introduction and afterword.
Hillary decided against the job, informing Alinsky that she felt law school was the better choice for the moment. She told Alinsky that she saw a "real opportunity" at Yale Law.
Alas, these are things we've known about Hillary and Alinsky for a while now, as reported by biographers (myself included) and with a few details by Hillary herself, though she has been very tightlipped. In her 2003 book, Living History, Hillary mentioned Alinsky, but only surrendered one paragraph, keeping a political safe-distance as she sought elected office. But what she said in that one paragraph is telling. "We had a fundamental disagreement," she wrote. "He [Alinsky] believed you could change the system only from the outside. I didn't."
Correct. Hillary is changing it from the inside.
In September 2014, however, came somewhat of a biographical game-changer, a small but meaningful revelation in our knowledge of Hillary and Alinsky. The Washington Free Beacon obtained two previous Hillary-Alinsky letters that hadn't been published before. Here was the context:
It was July 1971, and Hillary Rodham was interning in the law offices of communist rabble-rousers Robert Treuhaft and his British-born wife Jessica "Decca" Mitford, the one-time muckraking journalist. Truehaft and Mitford had married in 1943, several years after Mitford's previous husband died fighting for the Soviet Comintern in the Spanish Civil War. They eventually moved to San Francisco and lived near Saul Alinsky. Both Treuhaft and Mitford had joined Communist Party USA, and for many years were denied passports and investigated by government officials.
Yes, this was Hillary's big internship–working for two notorious Bay Area communists. Her father must have been appalled.
And so, on July 8, 1971, Clinton reached out to the aging Alinsky in a letter she marked "Personal" and sent via airmail adorned by two stamps with the face of Franklin Roosevelt. "Dear Saul," she began warmly, on a first-name basis. "When is that new book coming out–or has it come and I somehow missed the fulfillment of Revelation?"
The new book of Revelation that Hillary was excited about was Rules for Radicals. Hillary told Alinsky that she had just had her "one-thousandth conversation about Reveille" (his other classic) and "need some new material to throw at people." She was hopeful that Rules for Radicals would be providing that material.
She also informed the father of community organizing that she (Obama-like) was pumped up to do some community organizing, telling him that she had "survived law school, slightly bruised, with my belief in and zest for organizing intact."
The letter says more, including the intriguing disclosure that Clinton and Alinsky had kept in touch regularly since she entered Yale Law School. "If I never thanked you for the encouraging words of last spring in the midst of the Yale-Cambodia madness, I do so now," said Clinton. She told Alinsky, "I miss our biennial conversations," and asked him, "Do you ever make it out to California?"
The future Democratic Party presidential nominee wanted to see Alinsky. "I am living in Berkeley and working in Oakland for the summer and would love to see you," Clinton wrote. "Let me know if there is any chance of our getting together."
Alinsky, it turns out, happened to be on a trip to Southeast Asia at the time, where America was mired in war. But that did not stop Alinsky's secretary from opening the letter and responding to Hillary on his behalf. Why would the secretary take that liberty? Because, she explained to Hillary: "Since I know [Saul's] feelings about you I took the liberty of opening your letter because I didn't want something urgent to wait for two weeks," the secretary, Georgia Harper, wrote back to Clinton on July 13. "And I'm glad I did."
She informed Hillary that Saul's new book, titled Rules for Radicals, had just been released. She included several copies of reviews of the book.
Harper also informed Hillary that Alinsky was indeed coming to San Francisco. He would be "staying at the Hilton Inn at the airport on Monday and Tuesday, July 26 and 27. I know he would like to have you call him so that if there is a chance in his schedule maybe you can get together." She suggested Hillary call first thing Monday morning.
Did Hillary call? Did she and Saul get together in San Francisco? She has never told us.
Nonetheless, this much we can certainly say: Saul Alinsky clearly had an influence on the future Democratic nominee for president.
And further, we must add that Alinsky's influence was not only on the current Democratic nominee. He impacted the previous nominee as well. As noted, a young man named Barack Obama would read and teach Alinsky's tactics during his community-organizing days in Chicago.
Alinsky's influence on the Democratic Party today is so pronounced that his son, David, boasted eight years ago that the "Democratic campaign in 2008 … is a fine tribute to Saul Alinsky." He beamed: "the Democratic National Convention had all the elements of the perfectly organized event, Saul Alinsky style."
The 2016 Democratic National Convention likewise will owe something to Saul Alinsky. Hillary and crew may not give an open acknowledgment to Lucifer, but they ought to give an admiring nod to the lingering presence of Saul Alinsky.
--Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision Values at Grove City College. His latest book is Takedown. His other books include 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative, The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor and Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.