Disturbing Radicalism Exposed in Bernie’s Campaign

In the last few weeks, the Bernie Sanders campaign has come under intense criticism after several paid field managers for the Sanders campaign were caught on hidden camera downplaying the systematic slaughter of dissidents in the former Soviet Union, and calling for violent change outside of America’s electoral system. The videos were released by Project Veritas, an investigative outlet founded by journalist James O’Keefe, and they showcase a deeply disturbing trend in modern politics. It should concern everybody, regardless of whether they lean right or left when individuals working for major political campaigns deny historical atrocities and call for violent action to be taken because we will not be able to maintain a civil society with free dialogue if extremist views become accepted in the public forum.

In one video, a Bernie staffer named Martin Weissgerber claimed that “the gulags were founded as re-education camps” and joked about sending Republicans to re-education camps. In reality, the gulags were forced prison camps that were primarily populated with political prisoners (i.e. anyone who disagreed with communist orthodoxy) who lived in inhumane conditions, were forced to toil like slaves for more than ten hours a day in the freezing Siberian cold, received starvation-inducing rations, and were readily beaten, worked to death, or simply shot. Imagine the rightful outrage that would erupt if a Trump campaign manager joked about sending Democrats to concentration camps. Another Bernie field organizer, Mason Baird, said that “a lot of the stories we’re told in the United States about, you know, the gulags and the persecution of the kulaks and things like that are exaggerated.” Kulaks were Soviet peasant farmers, and millions of them were killed through collectivization, forced exiles, and murder. To claim that the scale of this atrocity is exaggerated is factually wrong, disrespectful to the millions of innocent people who were killed, and is morally akin to downplaying or denying other genocides like the Holocaust.

Daniel Taylor, another Bernie field organizer, said that “even if Bernie is elected, change will not come swiftly or easily” and that “it is unfortunate that we have to make plans for extreme action.” Mason Baird explained that “it’s gonna take militancy, like a militant labor movement that’s willing to strike, and if necessary, you know, just destroy property and things like that” and that “after we abolish landlords, we don’t have to kill them.” Weissgerber was caught saying “I’ll straight up get armed… I’m ready for the ****ing revolution” and proclaiming “guillotine the rich!” This violent rhetoric should not be acceptable in a democratic society where change is enacted through elections, not strong-arming and intimidation. Again, imagine the outrage that would follow if a Trump staffer called for guillotining liberals or the poor. It is morally reprehensible if an individual of any political persuasion calls for violence, regardless of whether they believe they have the public’s best interests in mind.

The question now remains: are the views of these radical staffers representative of the views of the majority of Bernie’s supporters, and of Bernie Sanders himself? I categorically do not believe that most progressives/Bernie supporters would support the opinions of these staffers, but I am concerned that men with such deplorable views are assisting one of the major candidates in the 2020 election. It is the responsibility of all politicians to denounce radical fringes within their movements and seek civil debate. Genocide denial and calls for militancy and violence must be taken seriously and be disavowed by anyone seeking office in a democratic society. As of the writing of this article, Bernie Sanders has not made any statements regarding these staffers.

Elie Aoun ’21

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