Have you ever heard of a group called UNO of Chicago? No, not the deep dish pizza chain; the Left-wing community organizing outfit. How about the Midwest Academy? Does the name James Cone ring a bell? If you’re like most Americans – including many who consider themselves fairly well informed about President Obama’s background and associations – you’re probably drawing a blank on all three questions. That’s why Stanley Kurtz’s new book, Radical-In-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism, is so important.
The key word in the title is “untold.” Kurtz, a respected investigative journalist and public intellectual, pored over reams of heretofore unseen documents and data from the president’s enigmatic past, and concluded that Barack Obama has been a movement socialist for much of his adult life. Despite its explosive title, the book is neither conspiratorial in nature, nor sensationalistic. It’s well-researched, and meticulously documented.
I sat down with Kurtz for a two-hour interview that will air in its entirety this Sunday evening on my radio program. For a flavor of the interview, here’s a partial transcript of just one exchange from our discussion, in which Kurtz details Obama’s relationship to the leader of a radical, ACORN-style group called UNO of Chicago:
GB: It’s 1985, and Barack Obama lands in Chicago, at which point he becomes caught up in an alphabet soup of community organization groups. Some of them, of course, I’d heard of – including ACORN – but others that I had not, such as UNO. Tell us about UNO, because that was one of the bigger eye-openers to me as I read [Radical In Chief].
SK: That is one of the more amazing things I stumbled across. Who knew that Obama had been part of a community organization that no one had ever heard of before? And yet Obama really was closely connected to a top leader…of a group called UNO Chicago. ‘UNO’ standing for “United Neighborhood Organizations.”
GB: This was a really poisonous group.
SK: They were hardcore Alinskyites. They really were kind of a predominantly Hispanic counterpart to ACORN, in that they were extremely confrontational in their tactics. They were famous, for example, for having trapped Republican Illinois Senator Charles Percy in a ladies’ bathroom to punish him. He was supposed to debate [Democrat] Paul Simon when they were running against each other [in 1984].
GB: And UNO members chased him into a women’s restroom?
SK: That’s right. They trapped him inside.
GB: Over what?
SK: He had refused to attend a forum they had set up. He quite rightly realized it was a set-up, that they were working with Simon, and that there would have been orchestrated boos and attacks in order to embarrass him.
GB: Orchestrated boos. This is something you wrote about in the book – where [UNO] would almost conduct training sessions about how to intimidate and bully public officials at meetings. It would be very carefully choreographed. The person would get up there to try to make his case, and he would be shouted down. You also said that one of the other things they’d try to do is box public officials into corners and force them to commit one way or another – yes or no – on some sort of question. They thought that dichotomy benefited them either way, no matter how they answered. Explain that.
SK: This was all the strategy of a fellow named Greg Galluzzo, who was very much following Alinsky’s theory of community organizing. He was a mentor to Obama. He was the founder of this radical group, UNO of Chicago. Obama’s own community organization, the Developing Communities Project, was an offshoot of UNO of Chicago. Galluzzo’s idea was: If you could trap a public official into an immediate yes or no answer, you would win either way. If you’re asking this person for money, which is what they usually were doing, if he says “yes,” you get the money. But if he says “no” – a distinct “no” instead of “maybe,” or “let’s look into this” – then you can infuriate the organization.
GB: They become, in their words, “an enemy.” It’s much easier to say, “This is an enemy of the community.” Any opportunity for subtlety or a nuanced answer that went beyond one word, they would do everything that they could to avoid that…because that sort of answer makes it more difficult to agitate over.
SK: That’s right. These tactics were intentionally polarizing. Think about that word, enemy, and what Barack Obama just recently said so controversially to a mostly Hispanic audience about “punishing their enemies.” That was a slip, revealing what Obama had been taught for years. That was not some one-off coincidental word that he happened to be using. Galluzzo’s and Alinsky’s whole idea was that you identify targets or enemies…And what Galluzzo also said was, “Present yourself as a pragmatist. Present yourself as someone who is beyond ideology, but then use polarizing tactics”…When you really know what Galluzzo is all about, you can get the real story on what Obama did back then.
GB: Galluzzo, I think, is one of the more odious characters in the book.
SK: And his name is disguised in [Obama’s first auto-biography], Dreams From My Father, where Obama changes the names of key characters, and who compresses characters. I argue in the book that he particularly did this with his community organizing mentor [character] because he had about three mentors, and he pulled them all into one character…because if he had developed someone whose identity who clearly was Galluzzo, it would have gotten him into some trouble, because Galluzzo was so notorious.
GB: I want to talk more about UNO of Chicago, and I’ll do so, probably, at the expense of talking more about ACORN. A lot of people already know about ACORN. No one knows about UNO. Just to illustrate who these people are, there is a school called “Ninos Heroes.”…It did not exist, then [UNO] agitated to get it built, and to secure its funding, which they did. And then they demanded that it be named “Ninos Heroes.” Explain how that process unfolded, and why is it so outrageous that they actually succeeded?
SK: Well, UNO of Chicago, as I mentioned, was a predominantly Hispanic organization. The truth is, while we don’t have exact numbers, a very large proportion of the organization was actually made up of illegal immigrants. In fact, the organization had to abandon a voter registration campaign it had started to impress politicians when it realized that such a vast portion of its membership was not eligible to register to vote. So first we had UNO of Chicago, with all of these illegal immigrants, besieging various politicians and demanding the expenditure of public funds for a school. When the school was finally granted, they decided that it ought to be called “Ninos Heroes” – or “Heroic Children.” These heroic children were famous in Mexico for having stood up to the US Army during the Mexican-American war. Now, there were a lot of patriotic Mexican-Americans in Chicago who had served in the US Military…They were extremely angry.
GB: [Uno of Chicago] wanted to name a school after literal enemies of the United States military?
SK: Literally. That’s right. But still, UNO of Chicago won, and the school was named Ninos Heroes because UNO kept running these confrontations against school board members at their homes.