Like all good propaganda, Horowitz's piece, titled "Guns don't kill black people, other blacks do," started plausibly, with a critique of the N.A.A.C.P.'s lawsuit against gun manufacturers. Why, he asked, should gun companies, instead of the killers, be held accountable for the appalling rate of black-on-black homicide? But that pointed query was merely a launching point for Horowitz's real message: a blanket assault on the alleged moral failures of African Americans so strident and accusatory that it made the antiblack rantings of Dinesh D'Souza seem like models of fair-minded social analysis.
The N.A.A.C.P. lawsuit, Horowitz contends, is part of an insidious campaign by black leaders to create a "politically inspired group psychosis [in which] we find it natural to collude with demagogic race hustlers in supporting a fantasy in which African Americans are no longer responsible for anything negative they do, even to themselves." Shaking down guilt-feeling whites, he says, has allowed "racial ambulance chasers" like Jesse Jackson and the N.A.A.C.P.'s Kweisi Mfume to live like millionaires. If blacks are really oppressed in America, he asks, "why isn't there a black exodus?"
Well, what does Horowitz want us to do, go back to Africa? Is he really unaware of concerted attempts by African-American civil rights leaders, clergymen, educators and elected officials to persuade young black men and women to take more responsibility for their actions? Just two weeks ago, at the National Urban League convention in Houston, I heard Jesse Jackson preach a passionate sermon on that theme. In fact, he and other black leaders have been dwelling on such issues for years.
Horowitz's slander wouldn't matter much if he spoke only for himself. But for the past three decades, Horowitz, 60, has been a conduit through which extreme political ideas gain access to the mainstream. During a previous incarnation as a leftist radical in the '70s, he was the editor who put a picture of a burning bank building on the cover of Ramparts magazine with the line, "The students who burned the Bank of America may have done more toward saving the environment than all the teach-ins put together." And the guy who continued to raise thousands of dollars for the Black Panther Party for years after everybody else had figured out that its leader Huey P. Newton was no revolutionary but a dangerous thug. During the 1980s Horowitz began to embrace the Ridiculous Right as passionately as he had once clung to the Lunatic Left. He founded the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, based in Los Angeles, whose purpose is to make inroads for conservatism in notoriously liberal Hollywood. Last week Horowitz told me that he had earned the right to talk down to blacks "because of all I did in the '60s." I think we'd all be better off if he'd just shut up.
Salon: David Horowitz responds