Friday, December 11, 2009

Jack McManus: The William F. Buckley of the JBS -- And No, That's Not a Compliment

JBS Hypocrite-in-Chief John F. McManus

"To put it bluntly, if you betray a man, you have no right to complain that he isn't as nice to you as he used to be. That's the special nature of betrayal; it cancels everything in a friendship."

Joseph Sobran

"I wouldn't trust a man who would sell out his friends."

"Dumkopf -- who else can you sell out? You can't double-cross an enemy." --

Maxwell Smart and his arch-rival Siegfried, discussing the ethics of defection.

On the subject of JackMcManus's hypocrisy -- previously discussed in this space, but a topic that could fill a work the size of Newton's Principia -- I should mention the utterly craven and vicious role he played in the JBS's dismissal of Joseph Sobran from The New American several years ago.

In addition to being the finest political and cultural commentator of our time, Mr. Sobran is a traditional Catholic -- a convert as a teenager, I was surprised to learn -- and one of the most principled men I've ever been blessed to meet. He has suffered a great deal for his commitment to the truth as he's been given wisdom to understand it.

In 1993 the execrable William F. Buckley, seeking to appease the neo-Trotskyites who had taken control of the conservative movement, fired Sobran because of his opposition to the first Gulf War. Sobran had publicly disagreed with his employer on a matter of principle about which he was right, and his employer wrong; this was deemed a firing offense.

As a graduate student, Sobran had once put his academic career in jeopardy to defend Buckley's right to speak on campus. Funny how little that courageous act mattered to Buckley when Sobran needed a friend. Sobran was left without a steady job, a man in failing health consigned to eke out a living as a freelancer.

McManus often referred to that episode to demonstrate how evil William F. Buckley truly was. Of course, in October 2006, McManus participated in a decision to do exactly the same thing to a long-time contributor to The New American -- Yours Truly.

Just a year earlier I had actually resigned my job (temporarily, as it happened) to protest the effort to blackmail McManus using the same collection of anti-Jewish statements that Art Thompson had compiled around 2000. This gesture counted for little when Jack had an opportunity to speak in my defense.

As I've previously explained, I thought the statements being used against Jack were pretty loathsome, but I assumed that we were dealing with an isolated episode. I had no idea about the extent to which McManus had made something of a second career out of propounding such nonsense -- and Art Thompson, who did know, was happy to abet my misunderstanding.

My resignation in October 2005 was a gesture of bone-deep disgust over the prospect of working for an organization in which "leadership" positions could be obtained through criminal means, and blackmail is a crime.

It would take a sophist of exceptional skill to identify a substantive difference between Buckley's treatment of Joseph Sobran in 1993, and the treatment I received at the hands of Jack McManus, Art Thompson, Alan Scholl, and Gary Benoit in October 2006. Where Jack is concerned, however, he was simply being true to form, since he had eagerly participated in a similar purge of Joseph Sobran from the TNA masthead several years before.

After being cast aside by National Review, Sobran continued to write and syndicate his column. Among the outlets that bought Joe's column was The Spotlight (now the American Free Press), which was published by a quasi-offshoot of the JBS called the Liberty Lobby.

Worried that any association with the Spotlight and its sponsor would "taint" the Birch Society, Vance Smith decreed that Sobran would have to stop permitting his work to be published in that weekly journal. The problem here, of course, was that although Sobran's name adorned the masthead of The New American, he was not an employee of the JBS.

Unlike Vance or Jack, Sobran had actually suffered for his principles and desperately needed every dollar he could earn as a writer. He didn't enjoy a corner office and a generous salary and benefits package, as Vance did; he wasn't ensconced in a well-compensated sinecure, as Jack was (and is today). Sobran worked hard for everything he earned. By telling him to stop selling his column to a willing customer, Vance was in effect trying to impose a pay cut on someone whom he did not employ.

To the surprise of nobody who knew him, Gary Benoit -- who invariably goes whither the prevailing suck-up wind carries him -- was willing to collaborate in this outrage. (It was Gary's willingness to countenance the effort to blackmail Jack that actually prompted my resignation in 2005.) What I found surprising was Jack's eagerness to act as Vance's hit-man where Joseph Sobran was concerned.

Sobran considered Jack a friend, and -- like myself and others who made the same mistake -- he soon discovered that dorsal knife wounds are the stigmata of that status. Jack met with Joe several times in an effort to convince him to knuckle under to Vance's presumptuous and unjust demands. But Joe wouldn't budge, any more that I would later be willing to put up with similarly improper and dictatorial demands made by Jack and his cohorts.

So Sobran's name was stripped from TNA's masthead, and another paying outlet was closed off to a brave and principled man who was, by at least an order of magnitude, the finest writer ever published in that journal.

Now, there are many -- including some people whose views I respect and whose friendship I cherish -- who believe that Mr. Sobran is an anti-Semite. I am emphatically not of that opinion. He is a critic of the Israeli government, just as he is a critic of every version of the institutionalized affliction called "government." He is also a critic of the Zionist movement, in both political and theological terms.

Whatever one thinks of his opinions, Joseph Sobran has never endorsed any act of violence, hatred, or bigotry committed against any Jewish individual anytime by anybody, and he never will. He has not called for Jews to be shackled by civic restrictions or subject to punitive government policies. He is consistently opposed to government violations of individual rights irrespective of the race or religion of the victims.

In this respect Sobran is entirely different from Fr. Leonard Feeney, Jack McManus's religious guide and model, who insisted that "the Jews" are always and everywhere the enemies of Christian civilization, and called for government to impose legal "curbs" on Jews because they are Jews.

While Jack McManus was collaborating in the purge of Sobran from The New American, he was speaking and writing on behalf of his little Feeneyite sect. In fact, as I recall the chronology, within a few weeks of Sobran's dismissal, Jack was giving the very speeches that were later used in an attempt to blackmail him.

Even those who disagree with Sobran's views about the Israeli government, the Zionist movement, or the value of historical revisionism cannot deny this: There is something exceptionally nasty about the hypocrisy Jack displayed in his treatment of Sobran.

The most remarkable decorative filigree in this portrait of self-serving duplicity is this:

Before being kicked aside by JBS management, Joseph Sobran had written a typically elegant foreword to Jack's silly little book about William F. Buckley, a project that began sometime in the early 1990s and consumed most of Jack's time until it finally wheezed into life in 2002. Joe did this as a personal favor to Jack, knowing that the foreword -- for which Joe received no compensation -- would enhance the book's market value.

The long-gestating product of an institutional grudge against Buckley, Jack's book fell stillborn from the press: By the time it was available, Buckley was no longer a consequential figure, even among people old enough to remember a time when he was considered the voice of "respectable" conservatism.

Sobran's foreword was the only element of the manuscript that offered fresh insights and elegance of expression. When he was designated an un-person by JBS upper management, however, Sobran's foreword had to go, and with it went the only selling point for Jack's derivative, tedious, thinly researched tome, which was essentially a monograph fed steroids to inflate it to a size justifying a hardcover format.

Jack is either too dim or too arrogant to see that what he did to Sobran was exactly like the treatment Buckley gave to Robert Welch, and later to Sobran as well. I'm sure that point wasn't lost on Sobran.

Writing a few years after being fired by National Review, Joseph Sobran described the Buckley modus operandi in words that apply just as well to McManus and the other invertebrates currently running the JBS:

"[T]he people Bill has broken with have consistently been more principled than he is -- Randians, Birchers, Murray Rothbard, Wilmoore Kendall, Brent Bozell, Gary Wills, and others of lesser renown. His only recourse is to imply that they are fanatical, extreme, obsessive...."

Buckley sold out better men as the price of fame and wealth. McManus, on the other hand, is like the Hobo who puts a knife in a friend's back in order to steal his blanket on a chilly night.


Anonymous said...

Great article. I esp. love the line... fell stillborn from the press.... - classic!

ernie1241 said...

Will: Is it your belief that after McManus leaves the scene, a new generation of leadership will takeover the JBS and restore it to what you think are its formative values and principles?

William N. Grigg said...

ernie1241 -- As I see things, the only hope for the continued existence of the JBS would be the immediate replacement of its present gerontocracy with a younger, less authoritarian leadership.

There are more than a few people in the current field staff -- whose names I won't tarnish by mentioning them explicitly -- who could do remarkable and worthwhile things were they in charge of the group.

I don't see anything seriously wrong with the values and principles of the JBS. There are some institutional changes that should be made, however, most of which would involve formally abandoning Robert Welch's concept of a "monolithic structure."

In practice, the JBS ceased to be monolithic in the mid-1960s when Welch created the ad hoc committees. At present, the JBS is putting greater emphasis on social networking than on building permanent chapters. So the organization is becoming decentralized, even as the leadership remains dictatorial. I can't see how this is sustainable.

Anonymous said...

Should the changes you ( Will) just mentioned take place. I would become a member again.
As a lover of liberty I have no time let alone money to spare for an organization whose leadership's actions more closely resemble that of Lenin's inner circle.

-Stuart B.

ernie1241 said...

Will -- I have often been wrong in my own speculation about the future of the JBS -- but I think you might be a bit too pessimistic because anytime an organization has a billionaire on its National Council -- I suspect it can always continue to exist with or without "authoritarian leadership".

Also, my sense is that many Birchers prefer the top-down structure and authoritarian setup of the JBS.

I wish the JBS would open its archives to outside independent scholars and researchers (or donate its records from, say, the 1960's-1980's to some institution) so that a more accurate history could be written about the JBS and its members. But I doubt that will ever be case.

William N. Grigg said...

A billion dollars doesn't buy what it used to. I suspect that anybody with the business acumen to build a billion-dollar fortune would eventually tie his purse-strings together rather than keep throwing his money away during a severe economic downturn.

I'm intrigued to learn that there is a billionaire on the JBS Council, especially in light of what Art Thompson told me when I was canned -- namely, that fundraising efforts were about one million dollars short for 2006. Who's the billionaire in question?

If you've had the chance to watch Art Thompson's weekly video messages, it looks like the JBS is going full-bore xenophobe/paranoid/militarist. I'm beginning to wonder if they've gotten an infusion of cash from somebody who's connected to the Pentagon.

ernie1241 said...

Will: In answer to your question about the identity of the billionaire currently on the JBS National Council -- it is Nelson Bunker Hunt.

Also, I presume you have seen Thomas Eddlem's reply to your blog messages entitled "The Problem with William Norman Grigg" ??

William N. Grigg said...

I'm aware that Mr. Hunt has been a billionaire; I'd be surprised to learn that his current net worth is anywhere near that size.

When I met Hunt at a Council Dinner (in Los Angeles, I believe, in Spring 1995), he was on the upswing after a long and pretty brutal financial retrenchment. His recovery was based, in large measure, on developing energy assets in the former Soviet Union.

As if that weren't sufficiently scandalous, Hunt actually made the observation (in comments to a meeting of the Robert Welch Club, if memory serves) that Russia was now a "market economy." A couple of other Council members who have business dealings in former Soviet Bloc countries and China have likewise said things that contradict the prevailing JBS doctrine.

Tom's comments are almost criminally generous. He's a very good friend, and I miss working with him.

ernie1241 said...

Will: You may be right about Bunker Hunt. He did declare bankruptcy after Libya nationalized his oil operations in the 1970's and then he lost about $2 billion from his investments in the silver market, but my understanding is that his trust fund from his dad (about $200 million) was never affected.

So let me revise my previous comment to substitute "multi-millionaire" for "billionaire" -- lol.