ACORN’s Problems – and the Church

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CORN, the radical community organizing group that receives tens of millions of tax payers’ money to promote victimology, has dominated the headlines this past week. In ACORN’s Washington, Baltimore, and Brooklyn offices, employees were caught on hidden cameras counseling two undercover conservative activists, posing as a prostitute and a pimp, on how they can obtain a mortgage for a brothel. Said one loan counselor: “Honesty is not going to get you the house. . . .You can’t say what you do for a living.”

Shocked that ACORN – which was accused once again last year of voter registration fraud – flagrantly evades government rules and regulations, Congress froze their federal funding. Even America’s number one community organizer who trained ACORN activists, President Obama, has turned his back on the organization.

No one should be surprised that ACORN – which has over 700 chapters in 50 cities – bends the law to ensure the “maximum eligible participation” of the downtrodden in the nation’s largesse. They’re merely following the strategy of their intellectual granddaddy – Saul Alinsky.

Alinsky (1909-1972), a Chicago rabble-rouser, appeared on the national radar screen in 1947 when his book Reveille for Radicals hit the bestseller list. Rejecting American liberalism and the labor union movement because they merely hoped to reform capitalism, Alinsky called for the training of professional revolutionaries to infiltrate cities and use “whatever works to get power to the people” in order “to advance from the jungle of laissez-faire capitalism. . .where the means of economic production will be owned by all of the people instead of just a comparative handful.” His 1971 Rules For Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals, shaped a whole generation of leftists now running America’s social programs.

Described as an “organizer magician,” Alinsky’s role model was “the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom – Lucifer.” And to achieve desired political ends, Alinsky advised his followers to employ the tactics of intimidation: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it…. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions. (This is cruel but very effective, direct, personalized criticism and ridicule works.)”

Alinsky influenced scores of leftists including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. As an undergraduate, Hillary Rodham met with Alinsky several times, declined a job offer from him, and wrote a ninety-two-page senior thesis, “There is Only the Flight…,” that analyzed Alinsky’s approach. Although the thesis has been sealed by Wellesley College, Mrs. Clinton has said publicly that Alinsky’s “abrasive tactics paid off” and that her paper “basically argued that [Alinsky] was right.”

As a Chicago Community organizer, Obama taught the Alinsky method to ACORN agitators. His former supervisor, Gregory Galluzzo, who humbly calls himself Alinsky’s St. Paul, claims that “Obama’s exposure to [Alinsky’s] liturgy taught him that wisdom can emerge from the grass roots.”

All this was probably only to be expected. But when Alinsky began his career in the 1930s as an urban agitator in the Chicago stockyards neighborhoods known as “back of the yards,” he also managed to strike an alliance with the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, which helped him found the community organizing operation, Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) which to this day holds training workshop for aspiring radical activists.

Influential Catholics embraced Alinsky’s politics of personal destruction. Then Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Bernard J. Sheil, called Reveille for Radicals “a life-saving handbook for the salvation of democracy” and the great French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain called it “epoch making.”

In the 1950s, Father John Egan of the Cana Conference, who met Alinsky through Maritain, was so impressed with Alinsky’s hands-on experience and confrontational style, that he convinced Chicago’s Samuel Cardinal Stritch to hire IAF to advance social projects. According to Church historian Steven Avella, Cardinal Stritch and his successor Albert Cardinal Meyer funded Alinsky community organizing operations for years because he persuaded them that the “Church could be a very powerful social force in…Chicago if it could only mobilize itself for action.”

Alinsky trained scores of young priests who later took on major responsibilities within the Church bureaucracy including the U.S. Catholic Conference. Thomas Pauken, a former Director of Vista, a federal agency that gives grants to activist groups, believes that “the radicalization of elements of the Catholic clergy turned out to be one of Saul Alinsky’s most significant accomplishments.”

The “Great Society” war on poverty legislation codified Alinsky’s “rules for radicals” by calling for “maximum feasible participation” of public agencies and non-profits in poor neighborhoods. This opened the flood gate for taxpayer, corporate, and charity-funded community organizations, like ACORN, dedicated to implementing the Alinsky rule, “to rub the sores of discontent.”

Sadly, one “Great Society” inspired non-profit is the Church-sponsored Campaign for Human Development (CHD). Funded with millions of dollars dropped into American Catholic parish collection baskets, CHD donated over $100 million between 1972 and 1995 to Alinsky-type organizations. The largest recipient was IAF. One-time CHD director, Father Marvin Mottet, had worked as an ACORN organizer. In the Fall of 2008, Campaign for Human Development suspended all donations to ACORN after allegations that over $1 million had been embezzled from that organization. According to the Catholic News Service, in the previous decade, CHD had given approximately $7.3 million to ACORN.

Saul Alinksy’s goal was to create “a backyard revolution in cities across America.” Little did he know that his revolution would advance far beyond Chicago’s neighborhoods and bring corruption to the front steps of the White House – and the Catholic Church.

George J. Marlin, Chairman of the Board of Aid to the Church in Need USA, is the author of The American Catholic Voter and Sons of St. Patrick, written with Brad Miner. His most recent book is Mario Cuomo: The Myth and the Man.