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Kengor Writes . . .

Paul Kengor

Paul Kengor is a professor of political science and the executive director of The Institute for Faith and Freedom at Grove City College, in Grove City, Pennsylvania, and he is the editor of The American Spectator. These essays are republished from The Institute for Faith and Freedom, an online publication of Grove City College, and The American Spectator. Paul Kengor is the author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004); The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007); The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007); and The Communist — Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink 2012).

The Tumultuous Life and Conversion of Eldridge Cleaver

One figure that liberals didn’t commemorate this Black History Month is Eldridge Cleaver, the Black Panther Party ringleader of the 1960s. The reason is no great mystery: Had Cleaver remained a radical leftist, he no doubt would be remembered fondly by much of the Left today. But instead, leftists have gone silent on Cleaver, because of a very uncomfortable reality for them: By the 1980s, Eldridge Cleaver had become a conservative. He had become an intensely anti-Communist, Reagan-endorsing Republican who even challenged his pro-Marxist congressman, Ron Dellums, in a run for Congress.

Yes, the legendary Eldridge Cleaver had become a black conservative. And there are few types that liberals dislike more than black conservatives.

Leroy Eldridge Cleaver was born in Wabbaseka, Arkansas, on August 31, 1935. His father was a big, strong man who abused Cleaver’s mother, which terribly affected Cleaver. He longed to take vengeance upon his father, to grow up tough enough to “beat him to the ground the way he beat my mother.” And yet, Eldridge himself would become an abuser of women, and more.

Cleaver’s family moved to the turbulent Watts section of Los Angeles, a powder keg of racial discontent in the 1960s. Cleaver got sucked in. As a teen, he got into serious trouble. For various crimes, he landed first in juvenile detention centers en route to adult jail at Soledad State Prison. It was there that Cleaver might have been reformed; instead, he started reading Voltaire, Lenin, W.E.B. DuBois, and Karl Marx. Bad choices.

At age 23, out of Soledad prison, Cleaver quickly fell back into trouble. He was convicted of rape and assault with intent to murder, which sent him right back to jail. Making things worse, he was further politically radicalized by digging deeper into Marx’s Communist Manifesto.

During his time in Folsom State Prison in 1965, Cleaver wrote what became his famous memoir, Soul on Ice, published in 1968. He there candidly admitted his drug use, his raping of women, and his commitment to Marxism. The raping of women was especially appalling, as Cleaver cast it in a political-racial perspective as a form of “insurrectionist” activity against the dominant white power structure. He wrote horribly and disturbingly:

“I became a rapist. To refine my technique and modus operandi, I started out by practicing on black girls in . . . the black ghetto where dark and vicious deeds appear not as aberrations or deviations from the norm, but as part of the sufficiency of the Evil of the day — and when I considered myself smooth enough, I crossed the tracks and sought out white prey. . . . Rape was an insurrectionary act. It delighted me that I was defying and trampling upon the white man’s law, upon his system of values, and that I was defiling his women.”

As if that wasn’t awful enough, Cleaver had been willing to commit murder. He said openly that “there was little doubt” that he “would have slit some white throats” if he knew he could get away with it.

Soul on Ice, despite its violent depravity, became a bestseller and a sacred text to the Black Power movement. The ’60s New Left embraced Cleaver wholeheartedly. It “dug” Cleaver’s revolutionary Marxism.

Cleaver joined the Marxist-Leninist Black Panther Party, located in Oakland, California. He became the group’s so-called “Minister of Information,” or spokesman. Like Third World Marxist revolutionaries, Cleaver and his Panthers were committed to armed struggle. They favored an armed overthrow of the U.S. government. In a fascinating interview with Reason Magazine, when he was no longer seeking to overthrow the U.S. government, and a very different person, Cleaver admitted that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had him and the Black Panther Party pegged, even as Cleaver’s white-leftist allies insisted that Hoover and his boys were paranoid anti-Communists:

“Sure, I can understand J. Edgar Hoover, because he wasn’t inaccurate. We were the most militant black organization, and we were serious in what we were going about. He said that we were the main threat. We were trying to be the main threat. We were trying to be the vanguard organization. J. Edgar Hoover was an adversary, but he had good information. We were plugged into all of the revolutionary groups in America, plus those abroad. We were working hand-in-hand with Communist parties here and around the world, and he knew that. So, from his position, he had to try to stop us.”

Cleaver explained how he and his comrades would plan ambushes of the so-called “pigs.” When the police responded, Cleaver and comrades tried to blame the cops:

“We used to lie about it, because the information was a weapon also. We would go out and ambush cops, but if we got caught we would blame it on them and claim innocence. I did that personally in the case I was involved in. . . . We always did that.”

The cauldron of this cesspool of violence was the state of California, where, interestingly, the governor was Ronald Reagan. This eventually pitted Eldridge Cleaver against Ronald Reagan. That was not a safe situation for Reagan.

Though Cleaver had been charged with attempted murder and ordered back to jail, a liberal judge released him after only two months. And no one was shocked when Free Speech Movement leftists at Cal-Berkeley in 1968 rolled out the red carpet for Cleaver to give a series of “lectures.” Governor Reagan and the California Board of Regents, however, were appalled. Reagan strenuously objected: “If Eldridge Cleaver is allowed to teach our children, they may come home one night and slit our throats.”

Reagan’s vivid warning was not unwarranted, given that Cleaver had written in Soul on Ice about desiring to slice throats. Cleaver not only expressed feigned outrage at Reagan’s remark but responded with violent warnings, several times challenging Reagan to a duel, publicly declaring, “I’ll beat him to death.” Likewise, a target of Cleaver was California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Max Rafferty. Cleaver ripped into both Reagan and Rafferty in a speech before a large audience of admiring leftists in the football stadium of Sacramento State College on October 2, 1968. To wild applause from “peace activists,” Cleaver barked:

“Someone told me that when Ronald Reagan entered the Capitol here, they changed the name of the Capitol [building] to the Fairy Building. I say that is very appropriate and want to congratulate whoever came up with that thought and I have a special new word for Ronald Reagan this morning, ‘[Expletive] you, Ronnie baby!’ [loud, sustained, raucous applause]

“I believe that Ronald Reagan is a punk, a sissy, and a coward, and I challenge him to a duel. I challenge the punk to a duel to the death that he can choose his own weapons. It could be a baseball bat, a gun, a knife, or marshmallow. I’ll beat him to death with a marshmallow.”

“You know, I lived in this area for a number of years — Folsom Prison is about 20 miles from here. . . . I know that my parole officer has his comrades here today, agents here. Same thing for Ronald Reagan, same thing for the adult authorities, the same things for all the wards involved in prison, all the pigs, the hogs who patrol the prison — [expletive] you!

As Cleaver raged on, the liberals loved it, cheering wildly in roaring approval. He referred to public authorities as pigs, racists, and “motherf--kers,” emphasizing that “the term ‘motherf--ker’ is a legitimate term.” He ripped the “bald headed faggots in the legislature,” and on and on.

Readers today will observe that Cleaver’s litany of insults ought to be denounced as “homophobic” by liberals. But quite the contrary: Leftists exhibit an extraordinary ability to excuse gay-bashers when one of their guys is doing the bashing. For decades, they smeared J. Edgar Hoover as a “queer,” homosexual, cross-dressing “transvestite.” During this talk in Sacramento, the progressives in the audience chuckled merrily at every slur dished by Cleaver. He was energized by their reaction, carrying on like a vulgar comedian.

The good news: Eldridge Cleaver’s parole was revoked. It was clear this was a dangerous man. He was ordered back to prison. The bad news: He had other plans. He was not about to go back to jail.

Discovering Dystopia — On November 24, 1968, only three days before he was required to turn himself over to authorities, Eldridge Cleaver bolted. He fled America as a fugitive, settling first in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. The Cuban despot, however, was suspicious. He thought that perhaps Cleaver was secretly spying for the U.S. government — a most unlikely possibility, but not an unusual thought for the paranoid tyrant in Havana.

Of all places, Cleaver found refuge in another Communist dystopia: Kim Il Sung’s North Korea. For a black man struggling for freedom from government oppression, this seemed an odd choice. Not only did North Korea have no freedom, but it also had no black people. And really, everyone in North Korea was in shackles, other than Kim and his party apparatchiks; here was a whole nation of slaves. That was something that Eldridge Cleaver learned right away. In Pyongyang, he was smacked upside the head with some harsh realities. The political pilgrim experienced a huge wake-up call. Cleaver was aghast at the reality on the ground in these Communist hellholes. Marxism was not what he imagined it to be.

Cleaver learned that fellow leftist intellectuals in the United States glowed about these places without having actually visited them. If they did bother to visit, they received orchestrated tours where guides paraded them through Potemkin villages. But Cleaver was street-smart. He was no fool. He later told Reason Magazine:

“See, I lived in those kinds of places and I got to know people.” Cleaver got those Potemkin village tours, but then:

“I had a chance to meet other people and have a different experience. If I had gone only on the basis of how the governments treated me, I would have continued praising them, because really they did treat me well. They gave me a red-carpet treatment in those countries. But when you get off the red carpet and step down in the mud where the people are, you get a chance to talk to them and hear the stories that they have to tell, over and over again.”

Cleaver was given the useful-idiot treatment, but he was no useful idiot.

He later conceded that “to go to a country like Cuba or Algeria or the Soviet Union and see the nature of control that those state apparatuses had over the people — it was shocking to me. I didn’t want to believe it, because it meant that the politics that I was espousing was wrong and was leading toward a very bad situation.” He furthered: “When you look at those governments up close and see how they treat their own people, you can’t believe in that.”

Cleaver got out of Pyongyang and put it and other false utopias far behind. By 1975, he was longing to make his way back to America, the country that he once thought was the world’s most oppressive. His real-world experience with Communism had made Cleaver a committed anti-Communist. He started questioning everything that he had learned from the Left.

In choosing to return to America, Cleaver would need to face the justice system yet again. But now, he was willing to do so. As one observer noted:

“Facing a murder charge in the United States is, apparently, preferable, and not by a small margin, to being given the red-carpet treatment in the various socialist and Communist paradises around the world.”

And so, in 1977, Eldridge Cleaver surrendered to the FBI. Somehow, through a plea bargain, he was sentenced to merely 1,200 hours of community service. He must have been grateful for this leniency. In Cuba or North Korea, he would have been cast into a dungeon. In the USSR, Siberia.

For Cleaver, these real-life experiences began a religious odyssey as well. Like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, he had once sought Islam. Now, he turned to Christianity. He became a born-again evangelical before eventually settling on Mormonism, joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in December 1983.

Backing Reagan and Running for Congress — Eldridge Cleaver’s dramatic conversion soon became public when he announced that he was backing President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 reelection. He informed a shocked America that he had become a conservative Republican and would even seek political office on the GOP ticket. He ran for Congress against Rep. Ron Dellums, the wildly pro-Communist Democrat congressman from Berkeley.

Cleaver had once so militantly opposed Ronald Reagan that he had been willing to kill him. By the 1980s, he supported Reagan and his policies on issues from anti-Communism to strengthening law and order. Cleaver came to see welfare programs as actually hurting the people they were intended to help. He told Reason Magazine in 1986:

“My life, I think, spans the whole era of the welfare state. I was born in 1935. I remember when people were ashamed to be on welfare and receive state aid and all that, but we developed a situation where black people to a large degree and a lot of other groups such as elderly people, children, and a lot of poor white people ended being harnessed by political forces, particularly the Democratic Party. In return for the federal appropriations that we are now dependent upon, our leaders were obligated to get out the black vote for the Democratic Party. So, this put us in a negative relationship with the economic system. We were dependent upon the federal budget — a very precarious situation.”

Black conservatives like Walter Williams and Clarence Thomas would refer to this “harnessed” political dependency as the Democratic Party’s “liberal plantation.” When they pointed this out, black and white liberals excoriated them as “Uncle Toms.” Nonetheless, black conservatives like Williams, Thomas, Bob Woodson, Thomas Sowell, Larry Elder, Candace Owens, Ben Carson and on and on have made this point, enraging liberal Democrats. Eldridge Cleaver, a symbol of black empowerment, wanted blacks to empower themselves.

By this point, Cleaver was not only firmly anti-welfare state, but had become firmly pro-American, ditching all the anti-American Marxist claptrap he had once advocated. When the reporters from Reason Magazine visited Cleaver at his home in Berkeley in 1986, they were struck by the large American flag flying from his front porch. Cleaver went so far as to demand that the berserk Berkeley City Council begin its meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance. This prompted the far-left Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport to snap at Cleaver: “Shut up, Eldridge. Shut up or we’ll have you removed!”

So much for the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. But as Cleaver came to understand, the Left was full of hypocrisy. Leftists ran not only the “liberal plantation,” as he called it, but cancel culture.

Cleaver was very outspoken during this period. He talked about other former Black Panthers who had become conservatives — as well as staunch supporters of the police. He spoke of one incident:

“I was pulled over in my car with my secretary for a traffic thing, and one of the officers walked up to the car and saw me sitting inside. He took off his hat and said, ‘Hey, Eldridge, remember me?’ He used to be a Panther.”

Eldridge Cleaver would today be appalled at the reckless, dangerous calls by groups like Black Lives Matter to defund and even abolish the police, not to mention the support of Communism by BLM’s founders Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza.

A Soul on Ice Seeks Heaven — In all, to say that Eldridge Cleaver lived a difficult life is an understatement. He had been a violent criminal in his youth. Throughout the remainder of his life, he spoke candidly about his many terrible sins and crimes. By the 1980s, he had turned his life around. Still, he struggled. Despite seeking out Christianity, he remained long tormented by his demons. He never gave up drug use completely. He went into a rehab center. In 1994, he almost died from a blow to the head by a fellow drug addict.

Still, his long struggle brought him closer to peace and contentment. Richard Rose, a professor of religion and philosophy who worked with Cleaver at the University of La Verne (near Los Angeles), watched him up close in his final days. “He was a gentle spirit,” Rose observed. “His presence of nonconformity was still there, and he was his own person.”

The lifetime of turmoil took a toll. Cleaver struggled physically, but his belief in a higher power, a Creator, kept him going. At one of his final public appearances, an Earth Day conference in Portland, Oregon, in late April 1998, he affirmed, “I’ve gone beyond civil rights and human rights to creation rights.”

It was above all his Creator that he longed for.

On May 1, 1998, at 6:20 a.m., Eldridge Cleaver died at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center in suburban Los Angeles. He was 62 years old.

Eldridge Cleaver’s long fight was over. The soul on ice endeavored for his soul to enter heaven. That meant leaving the Left far behind. He and his remarkable journey deserve to be remembered. But unfortunately, our liberal media, historians, and culture do not fondly remember black conservatives like Eldridge Cleaver, not during Black History Month or at any time.

Two Years In, Why I’m Not Optimistic About Putin’s War on Ukraine

On Feb. 24, 2022, I was awakened by dinging text messages and phone calls from an old friend, an expert on Russia, the Cold War, and Communism.

He doesn’t usually call, or even text. He prefers email. He was clearly agitated. His first message explained why: “The Russians have invaded Kiev!”

It was a shock. Sure, we knew what Vladimir Putin is like. The ex-KGB lieutenant colonel is a thuggish dictator. I say that as someone who, like many in the West, was initially optimistic about Putin when he first came to power in January 2000 after Boris Yeltsin’s surprising New Year’s Eve announcement informing fellow Russians and the world that he was resigning as president of post-Cold War, post-Communist, free Russia. Yeltsin noted in that speech that he and many Russians of all sides felt they had in the young Putin (Yeltsin’s prime minister) an energetic, likeable leader to steer the country into the new millennium.

How far into that millennium is now a revealing issue. According to the terms of the Russian Constitution, fought for by Yeltsin and those who built a post-Soviet Russia, Putin at best could serve two four-year terms. In March 2000 and March 2004, he was elected overwhelmingly. According to the constitution, he would exit by March 2008, thereby establishing an impressive event that had never happened before in the very long history of Russia, namely: A peaceful transition of power from one democratically elected president, Boris Yeltsin, to another, Vladimir Putin, and then to another.

But that changed drastically, as did any optimism over Putin, as he proceeded to crush those term limits by finding a way to ensconce himself in power way beyond eight years. Through a complex series of schemes, maneuvering, and pure realpolitik, he got himself back in power and jettisoned constitutional limits that had been intended to check an authoritarian like himself. Indeed, here we are, in 2024, and Putin remains in power. Technically, if he lives long enough, he’s assured to remain in power until at least 2030. And one can be certain that once 2030 hits, he’ll craft a scheme to stay yet longer. He’s making himself a dictator for life.

Along the way, Putin also crushed any remaining optimism by rolling his army’s tanks into the Crimea in 2014. That was another wake-up call to the world. But even then, there was a sense of some limits to his power grab. Sure, we knew that he wanted to seize part of Ukraine, incorporating it into what he expansively refers to as the “Fatherland,” but we didn’t think the man would ever goose-step his troops all the way to Kiev. No way!

Well, eight years later, on Feb. 24, 2022, Vladimir Putin proceeded to do just that.

In retrospect, the best signal of those intentions was a speech that Putin gave in April 2005. It wasn’t just any speech. This was his annual “State of the Nation” address to the Russian Parliament, broadcast live on Russia television. Putin declared: “The collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”

That bombshell was dropped without any elaboration. “Putin deplores collapse of the USSR,” reported the BBC. Those of us who study Russia and the Cold War scratched our heads. What to make of that alarming declaration, especially given that Putin, in April 2005, was not yet the vicious, notorious Putin we now know?

As a professor, I had my students at Grove City College read that speech in our “Comparative Politics” course, where we do a deep dive on modern Russia. We pondered what Putin’s statement really meant. I was asked about it many times — in class, in media interviews. I had always said that we should not interpret it as a sign that Putin is seeking to reconstitute the old USSR. The Soviet Union consisted of Russia and 15 “republics,” all of which by December 1991 had declared independence, including Ukraine. In no way does Putin want to try to pull together the whole bloody behemoth that was the USSR.

He couldn’t give a rip about Tajikistan. But Putin does care very much, obviously, about Ukraine.

How much? Well, we knew by 2014 that he wanted the Crimea, but how much more of a chunk did this Russian nationalist-authoritarian — this admirer of the czars — want to bite off?

Again, we got our answer on Feb. 24, 2022. Vladimir Putin wants Ukraine so badly that he resorted to a curious combination of Hitlerian and KGB tactics. Hitler-like, he concocted “Big Lies” about ethnic Russians being targeted for “genocide” by the Ukrainian government. That was what the Führer in Nazi Germany charged against countries like Czechoslovakia and Poland.

The Russian authoritarian dusted off his old KGB dezinformatsiya (i.e., disinformation) manual. Among his most shocking claims justifying his invasion was that he and his Russian Army were seeking a “de-Nazification of Ukraine.” His surreal assertion angered and bewildered observers throughout the West. But those of us familiar with Soviet history — and the KGB —weren’t surprised.

The reality is that the Kremlin after World War II labeled pretty much every enemy a “Nazi sympathizer.” It was standard operating procedure. In fact, the Kremlin labeled everyone from Pope Pius XII to Cardinal József Mindszenty to Pope John Paul II “Nazi sympathizers.” That old smear is on Page One of the disinformation playbook, listed under “Character Assassination.”

So, now we know. Vladimir Putin wants as much of Ukraine as he can get — and as much as the people of Ukraine and the world are willing to permit. But unfortunately for Putin, the effort hasn’t gone well because the world has rallied against him. It has gone very badly.

Two months ago, The Wall Street Journal, citing a U.S. intelligence estimate shared with Congress, reported that Putin’s war on Ukraine “has devastated Russia’s pre-invasion military machine,” with nearly 90 percent of its prewar army lost to death or injury and thousands of battle tanks (nearly two-thirds) destroyed. The figures are shocking: The report claims that 315,000 Russian personnel have been killed or injured since the February 2022 invasion.

Stunning as those numbers are, I’m not surprised. I noted as early as March 2022, the start of Russia’s Ukraine invasion, that Russians always get clobbered in battle, and would again this time, especially facing a committed foe backed by massive supplies of Western/U.S. military aid. Russia’s history with death is extraordinary.

Tragically, the Russian people for more than a century have been mired in a perpetual culture of death at the hands of leaders who have no regard for the dignity of life.

And yet, Vladimir Putin remains defiant. He gave a sobering speech at the start of this year, 2024. It was his customary New Year address. What he said should give us pause.

Interestingly, the speech was considerably shorter than usual, running just under four minutes. Also, quite curious, some media sources noted that Putin “made little mention” of Ukraine, at least by name. But he didn’t need to. It was clear what he was talking about.

Putin vowed that Russia would “never back down.” In some translations (including the report by Reuters), Putin stated that his country “will never retreat.” He pledged that Russians “are united . . . in toil and in battle.” He added:

“What united us and unites us is the fate of the Fatherland, a deep understanding of the highest significance of the historical stage through which Russia is passing.”

And what is that historical stage? Putin sees himself as a grandiose figure in Russian history. He has long wanted to unite the “Fatherland.” Taking Ukraine is critical to that. In his eyes, this historical stage in that glorious mission cannot fail.

For that, Putin praised his troops: “You are our heroes. . . . We are proud of you.” And yet, it was telling that when Putin gave this annual speech last year, he was flanked by soldiers. This year, there were no soldiers behind him. Their absence is appropriate, given how many Putin has sent into the meat grinder.

So, how can Putin remain so defiant, so dedicated to a 2024 goal of never backing down, of not retreating? Well, that’s a thought that should frighten us all. I’ve written repeatedly that the one option in Ukraine that Vladimir Putin has yet to resort to is a nuclear option. He and his cronies have talked about nukes off and on publicly and steadily since April 2022, with rhetoric escalating and then fizzling, but all along quite disconcerting. I’ve feared all along that when this man’s back is against the wall, with a decimated military no longer at his disposal to “never retreat,” he could very well push that button.

Again, I see no reason for optimism with Vladimir Putin. There is so much more that I could say in that regard, but I’ll close with some thoughts about another country mired in this mess.

Putin has been increasingly talking about Poland, engaging in renewed demonization of that historical enemy of him and his “Fatherland.” In his recent two-hour-plus conversation with Tucker Carlson, Putin several times leveled an outrageous charge that it was Poland that worked with Hitler to somehow launch World War II, asserting:

“In 1939, after Poland cooperated with Hitler — it did collaborate with Hitler, you know — Hitler offered Poland peace and a treaty of friendship and alliance; we have all the relevant documents in the archives.”

Putin claimed that Poles had even “pushed Hitler to start World War II.” Of course, in truth, World War II was launched by Hitler collaborating with Josef Stalin via the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact on Aug. 24, 1939. That pact called for a mutual invasion of Poland, which promptly commenced just a week later, on Sept. 1, 1939, starting World War II.

From the outset of Putin’s war on Ukraine, I’ve warned people to keep their eyes on Poland. If this ongoing battle between Russia and Ukraine spills over into Poland, then all hell could break loose. Poland, unlike Ukraine, is a NATO member. By treaty, the United States of America is committed to protecting Poland. If Putin’s Russia strikes Poland, well, hold on to your seats.

So, in sum, here we are, at the two-year anniversary of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and what do we have? Plenty of talk from Putin about Russia never backing down or retreating, despite enormous battlefield losses; menacing words from Putin about our close NATO ally and his mortal enemy Poland; occasional words from Putin and his cronies about nukes; and more.

The situation remains grave. Pope Francis certainly understands that. He continues to strive to find a way to get to Moscow to talk to Putin and the Russian leadership. Quite appallingly, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has advocated and even given his blessing to the war on Ukraine. We can be sure that in 2024 Francis will continue to try to intervene on behalf of peace.

Two years since Putin’s shocking invasion, there remains no reason to be optimistic about him and his war on Ukraine. We must pray for peace, but Vladimir Putin doesn’t give us optimism.

‘ISIS-K’ Terror in Russia — a Savage ISIS Attack and Putin’s Troubling Response

The terrorist attack on a concert hall outside of Moscow on March 22, 2024, was shocking in its savage brutality. The animals who unleashed themselves upon hundreds of innocents in a crowded Crocus City Hall were merciless. The hall is part of a larger shopping complex. The camouflaged assailants slithered inside, opened fire with automatic weapons, methodically shot anyone within range, tossed grenades and incendiary bombs, and engulfed the whole edifice in a giant fireball. It was hellacious. Hundreds were injured and thus far 133 were murdered.

Once again, as I’ve said throughout these two years of Putin’s war on Ukraine, I’m not optimistic and expect the worst.

The attack was carried out by ISIS-K — Islamic State-Khorasan — the Afghanistan affiliate of the so-called and self-proclaimed “Islamic State.” ISIS-K has thrived since the Biden withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in August 2021 and subsequent Taliban return to power.

For the record, ISIS-K is not part of the Taliban, and in fact opposes the current Taliban regime. It existed prior to the Taliban’s return. But of course, the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan — sadly and unpredictably — removed a crucial stabilizing force that aimed to keep a lid on Islamic terror throughout the region, including the dastardly doings of the ISIS-K strongholds north and east of Kabul. Recall the August 26, 2021, ISIS-K suicide bombing at the Kabul airport that killed 13 U.S. military personnel and 169 Afghans during the U.S. withdrawal.

But let us return to the horrors of the moment: ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the Friday attack outside Moscow, and U.S. intelligence quickly confirmed it. There was no mistake about who was responsible. ISIS-K despises the Russian government and has escalated its attacks in the last two years.

Vladimir Putin’s initial response to the attack, however, was very troubling. In his first public statement, he made no reference to ISIS-K’s claims of responsibility. He attempted to link those responsible for the “barbaric terrorist attack” not to the Islamic State but to Ukraine. He went so far as to claim that the attackers were trying to get “back to” Ukraine. Putin asserted: “They tried to hide and move towards Ukraine, where, according to preliminary data, a window was prepared for them on the Ukrainian side, across the state border.”

Putin did not get into the details of his “preliminary data.”

Mad Dog Putin’s cynical finger-pointing toward Ukraine became the official Kremlin line. One of his chief propagandists, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, stated:

“Now we know in which country these bloody bastards planned to hide from persecution: Ukraine.”

Andrey Kartapolov, the head of the Russian State Duma Defense Committee, claimed flately, “Ukraine and its patrons are the main stakeholders in the terrorist attack at Crocus.” Quite ominously, he said that “if information about the Ukrainian trace in the terrorist attack is confirmed, there must be a clear answer on the battlefield.” Note the “if.” Hmm. Were they headed to Ukraine or not?

Putin puppet Dimitri Medvedev said that any Ukrainian leaders found to be involved would be “destroyed.”

Naturally, Ukrainian leaders in Kiev were aghast at the attempts to blame them. Vladimir Zelenskyy and Ukrainian military intelligence responded by emphatically stating that Ukraine had nothing to do with the incident. Zelenskyy said right away: “Ukraine certainly has nothing to do with the shooting/explosions in the Crocus City Hall. It makes no sense whatsoever.”

It indeed does not.

Zelenskyy furthered:

“. . . there is not the slightest doubt that the events in the Moscow suburbs will contribute to a sharp increase in military propaganda [by Putin], accelerated militarization, expanded mobilization, and, ultimately, the scaling up of the war. And, also, to justify manifest genocidal strikes against the civilian population of Ukraine.”

Zelenskyy described Putin and his cronies as

“. . . scum trying to blame it [the attack] on someone else. They always have the same methods. It has happened before. There have been bombed houses, shootings, and explosions. And they always blame others.”

He said Putin’s methods are “absolutely predictable.”

They sure are. In the old days back at the KGB offices, Vlad and pals called that dezinformatsiya — disinformation. The Soviet Department of Agitprop excelled at these methods. Lt. Col. Vladimir Putin learned well.

And to repeat: ISIS-K claimed responsibility. They did this.

Alas, here’s the major takeaway from this savage attack: The event was awful, ghastly, tragic. Russians rightly view it as one of the worst terrorist incidents ever committed against their people. But it could become much worse if Vladimir Putin and his goons use it as a pretext to do something still more savage to Ukraine. It is chilling to think what that might look like.

We shall wait and see. Once again, as I’ve said throughout these two years of Putin’s war on Ukraine, I’m not optimistic and expect the worst.     *

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Paul Kengor

Paul Kengor is a professor of political science and the executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. Paul Kengor is the author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004), The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007), The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007) and The Communist — Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink 2012).

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Annual Seminar 2022
Thu Oct 13, 2022 @ 2:30PM - 05:00PM
Annual Dinner 2021
Thu Oct 14, 2021 @ 6:00PM - 08:00PM
Annual Seminar 2021
Thu Oct 14, 2021 @ 2:30PM - 05:00PM
Annual Dinner 2020
Thu Oct 22, 2020 @ 5:00PM - 08:00PM
St Croix Review Seminar
Thu Oct 22, 2020 @ 2:00PM - 04:30PM

Words of Wisdom