Consumer activist and independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader is facing increasing criticism over what detractors describe as his campaign’s flirtation with organizations and individuals associated with Lenora Fulani, the New York-based radical activist with a long record of alleged anti-Jewish extremism.
Nader, whose 2000 Green Party candidacy widely is credited with costing Democrat Al Gore the presidency, gave an hour-long address in January at a conference in New Hampshire on the “Choosing an Independent President 2004 Campaign.” The conference was convened by Fulani and her longtime associate Fred Newman, a Marxist psychologist and proponent of “social therapy,” and sponsored by her organization, the Committee for a Unified Independent Party. Fulani, who was trained by Newman, is also a psychologist.
Former followers who have broken with Newman’s social therapy movement have alleged that the Committee for a Unified Independent Party is “related” to what they describe as a cult led by Newman. A Web site, ex-IWP.org, contains testimony from some defectors alleging instances of “deceit,” “manipulation” and “control.”
Fulani, the two-time presidential candidate and erstwhile leader of the now-defunct New Alliance Party, styles herself as the voice of a national movement of independent voters and has been described in the press as controlling at least the downstate faction of New York’s Independence Party, of which she is a state committee member. She endorsed Nader in an interview with a writer for the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard and spoke of her desire to “nominate” him as her party’s candidate and to have a “dialogue” with him about “helping the campaign.”
Nader’s appearance at the Newman-convened forum, and his reported hiring of an organizer linked to Fulani to help him gain access to Texas ballots, has opened him to a furious assault from a number of left-leaning activists and commentators who are accusing him of an unholy alliance with extremists and cultists.
“What in the world is Ralph Nader doing in bed with the ultrasectarian cult-racket formerly known as the New Alliance Party?” wrote a former Nader backer, commentator Doug Ireland, in a January 12 article on the Web site of the left-leaning journal The Nation.
“It’s terribly cynical and hypocritical,” said Ireland of what he called Nader’s “French kiss” with Newmanite organizations. “It demonstrates Ralph has lost his judgment… he’s forfeited his claims to leadership of the independent, democratic left.”
Nader, who decided against running as the Green Party candidate this time around, faces a stiff challenge just to secure spots on the ballot as an independent candidate in all 50 states. An alliance with Fulani, who has expertise in ballot access from her 50-state run, could help him in that regard, observers said.
The consumer activist would not be the first politician to find an association with Fulani convenient. Ultraconservative Patrick Buchanan sought her aid when he ran for president on the ticket of Ross Perot’s Reform Party, making her a campaign co-chair. Then-candidate Michael Bloomberg, now New York City’s Republican mayor, seeking another ballot line in case he lost the Republican primary, ran in 2001 on the Independence Party’s line as well as that of the GOP. Last year he lavished $7.5 million of his own money on an unsuccessful New York City ballot initiative for one of their common goals, the elimination of party primaries. New York Governor George Pataki, a Republican, and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, appeared with Fulani at an Independence Party fund-raiser in 2002, and Democratic Senator Charles Schumer appeared at one in 2003, according to accounts in New York newspapers.
“I continue to be flabbergasted that so many smart and savvy people have a blindspot regarding Fulani,” said the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman. “She’s a radical extremist who plays with antisemites and engages in anti-Jewish rhetoric, but so many people fail to see it.”
In a report about Fulani and Newman, “A Cult by Any Other Name: The New Alliance Party Dismantled and Reincarnated,” the ADL wrote, “Despite its self-proclaimed multicultural vision and its avowed dedication to fighting racism and anti-Semitism, NAP has repeatedly bombarded its members with anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist rhetoric.”
According to the report, Fulani has said that Jews “had to sell their souls to acquire Israel and are required to do the dirtiest work of capitalism — to function as mass murderers of people of color — in order to keep it.”
The report attributes to Newman such claims as, “the dirty Jew, once the ultimate victim of capitalism’s soul, fascism, would become a victimizer on behalf of capitalism; a self-righteous dehumanizer and murderer of people of color; a racist bigot who in the language of Zionism changed the meaning of ‘Never Again’ from ‘Never Again for anyone’ to ‘Never Again for us — and let the devil take everyone else.”
The political director of the Committee for a Unified Independent Party, Jacqueline Salit, said contacts with Nader’s campaign are ongoing.
“I’ve been speaking directly with Nader’s people about the Independence Party and his interest in the Independence Party line,” Salit said. “We’re going to continue on that path.” Salit, who also identified herself as a spokeswoman for the Independence Party, said she is having “direct conversations about the New York picture” with Nader’s campaign manager, Theresa Amato.
Salit said that allegations of “cultism, antisemitism, and con-jobbing” leveled against Fulani and Newman “have been disproven many times over.”
“Those charges are ridiculous and nobody takes them seriously,” she said. “The Independence party has relationships with major political leaders such as Governor Pataki, Senator Schumer, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, and on and on. The Independence Party is the third-largest party in New York State, with 275,000 members.”
A spokesman for Nader, Kevin Zeese, acknowledged that Fulani would love to have Nader on her ticket, but said Nader would not seek the Independence Party’s ballot line in New York.
“In New York he’s doing his own, independent candidacy,” Zeese said.
He rejected as “nonsense” the characterizations by Ireland, reporter Adam Reilly of The Boston Phoenix and many others who have sounded the alarm on Web sites and blogs across the country that Nader’s speaking at the January conference amounted to jumping “in bed” with Fulani and the Newmanites.
“Ralph was there as a speaker on civil liberties and ballot access,” Zeese said, noting that major-party presidential candidates had representatives at the conference. (Two Democrats, retired general Wesley Clark and Rep. Dennis Kucinich had representatives there, the Boston Phoenix reported.)
Zeese acknowledged, however, that Nader is accepting help from at least one Newmanite. Asked if, as was reported in the Austin Chronicle, Nader had sought assistance to gain access to the ballot in Texas from Linda Curtis, president of Independent Texans, a group Curtis described as linked to Newman’s social therapy movement and Fulani’s Committee for a United Independence Party, Zeese responded, “We’ve hired all kinds of people across the country. We’re not dominated by anyone from that faction. We’ll take anybody’s support. That’s what campaigns do.”
“People on the left who are using that as a criticism were against Ralph running to begin with,” Zeese continued. As for working with the Newmanite cadre and parties, “We’re not getting into bed with them. Don’t worry. We’re getting involved with people from across the political spectrum.”
Any Newmanites who worked for Nader would be “joining an independent candidacy,” Zeese said.
Still, the criticism of Nader for such contacts is growing louder.
Micah Sifry, an expert on third-party campaigns and a senior analyst of Public Campaign, a nonpartisan group that promotes “clean money” and “clean elections,” said he is “upset to see Ralph Nader cozying up to these people. He knows better. There were some people who thought he would be a better politician.”
“I believe a lot of people register in that party completely unknowingly,” said Sifry, author of “Spoiling for a Fight: Third-Party Politics in America.” “They claim to have all these members, when people think they are just registering independent.”
Chip Berlet, a longtime left-wing critic of the Newmanites, said that “on the left, they are generally considered pariahs.”
“I understand why someone would be attracted to an alliance with a group that can deliver ballot access in so many states, but at what price?” he said.
Daniel Cantor, executive director of the Working Families Party, a left-leaning, labor-affiliated party in New York, said his party “would not entertain” a Nader candidacy.
“We think it’s important to build a third-party formation, but not at the expense of beating Bush,” he said. “We’ll be fusing with the Democrats and encouraging Ralph to drop out.”