Who is Saul Alinsky?

Therese Bussen

Gradual infiltration of ideas so as to shape culture without its members even realizing it: This is what one man in the 20th century set out to do — and at the time, he even did it with the initial help of the Catholic Church.

The man was Saul Alinsky, a Chicago man born as a Jew who later became agnostic. He studied criminology at the University of Chicago, where he got involved with the mafia. He went on to become the founder of modern community organizing, and began that work with a vision of care for the poor, implementing his strategies in the Diocese of Chicago. His ideologies and community organizing strategies would go on to influence the social and political movements of today.

Father and son duo Richard and Stephen Payne of Arcadia Films co-produced the documentary A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing on the life of Alinsky and just how far “his tentacles spread” into the philosophical inner-workings of our country — infiltrating the Catholic Church and sowing seeds of the political polarization we see so widespread now.

“He was really central to the profound upheavals within the Church in the care of the poor,” said Richard. “His whole vision of reality breaks the fundamental principles of Catholic moral teaching, which is that the end does not justify the means.”

The documentary film A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, which chronicles the life and influence of Saul Alinsky, will be the focus of this year’s Gospel of Life Conference Oct. 21. The film’s producers, Richard and Stephen Payne, will speak at the event.

Alinsky’s approach, according to Richard, is one that is gnostic, a heresy that says you’re saved by your ideas.

“The Church in Chicago bought into that and supported his work and it had a profound impact in the 1960s on the Church’s project for the poor. He had developed nation-wide affiliates and community organizers,” Richard said.

“He had great influence on organizations,” Stephen said. “[Many modern movements] are funded by Alinskian-trained individuals, people who stoke the flames of violence…it stokes anxiety and frustration in poorer communities.”

“Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, they studied Alinksy. She knew him and she thought he didn’t go far enough. The tentacles [of Alinsky] are quite vast,” he added.

Alinsky didn’t come up with it all on his own, though. Richard explained that “several movements shaped his life historically” and influenced his Marxist ideology.

“In 1919, Lenin developed the Marxist institute, which moved away from the overt brutal forms of Marxism (Soviets or Nazism) to an underground movement,” Richard said. “The Frankfurt School played an essential role in the sexual revolution; they drew on Freud’s pansexualism and merged in the late ’30s and ’40s with movements that would later create the gender revolution.

We show at the end of the film the parable of the Wolf of Gubbio, the wolf that terrorized a town. And St. Francis [of Assisi] comes into town and he tames the wolf, and he brings him back to town, where he’s loved. The key is that. [We have to] see Christ in the poor, not using the poor as a means to an end.”

“In the movement of the Frankfurt School, they bought the idea of gradualism, that it will take a long time to infiltrate [culture]. They were violently anti-Catholic,” Richard continued. “The Fabian Society in England, a movement that was initiated in the 19th century, [is another] — their symbol is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, which means moving under public awareness and cloaking things by redefining the language. These movements came into the country in a post-World War II period, where people were strangely influenced more and more by European movements.”

These movements deeply influenced Alinsky, who in turn impacted the modern movements and ideologies of today.

“It’s fundamentally a gnostic movement, where people are saved by ideas, and there’s the oppressors and the oppressed, and they’re attacked by force, and it usually ends up in violence,” Richard said. “It’s based on this engagement of a confrontation of oppressor and oppressed, that’s so fundamental. It’s created the polarization we see now.”

Their film lays these historical facts out in the lens of the Catholic worldview, and they’ve created a follow-up 10-minute short film that goes into more depth about the modern movements today and how they came from Alinskian thought.

But hope is not lost, Richard and Stephen said.

“We show at the end of the film the parable of the Wolf of Gubbio, the wolf that terrorized a town. And St. Francis [of Assisi] comes into town and he tames the wolf, and he brings him back to town, where he’s loved,” Stephen said. “The key is that. [We have to] see Christ in the poor, not using the poor as a means to an end.”

“The whole film is based on Matthew 7, that ‘underneath is a ravenous wolf’ — but we discern this by fruits,” Richard added. “That’s where we go with the film, we point out where the fruits lie.”

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing aired in September of 2016 on EWTN, won multiple film awards and continues to air on the Catholic network occasionally. It can also be watched online at alinskyfilm.com and is available for rent or as a download for purchase.

Richard and Stephen Payne will speak extensively on Saul Alinsky, show a trailer of their film, and reveal an exclusive follow-up short film on A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing at the Gospel of Life Conference, taking place at St. Thomas More Parish on Saturday, Oct. 21 from 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. The event includes Mass and lunch, and other speakers including Sister Maris Stella of the Sisters of Life and Father Daniel Ciucci.

Early-bird registration costs $50 and closes Oct. 18; the student rate is $15, and walk-ins cost $55, but with no lunch provided. Registration is capped at 500 attendees.

For more information or to register, visit gospeloflifeco.org.

Photo: Associated Press

COMING UP: The quiet hours of Leonid Brezhnev

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On first meeting Dr. Andrzej Grajewski, you probably wouldn’t guess that this mild-mannered Polish historian is one of the world’s leading experts on the ecclesiastical Dark Side of the Cold War: the relentless communist assault on the Catholic Church. But he is, and his expertise comes primarily from years of patient combing through the Bad Guys’ secret intelligence service files. Some of those files went up the smokestack in 1989 (or are still locked down in Moscow), but many are now available to scholars. Grajewski’s recent research in that often-sordid underworld raises some interesting questions about the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II on May 13, 1981.

What do we know with certainty about that affair?

We know that, by the fall of 1979, Yuri Andropov, the highly intelligent, ruthless head of the KGB (the Soviet secret intelligence service) had concluded that John Paul II was a grave threat to the Soviet system, both internally and in the external Soviet empire. And we know that the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party issued a decree on November 13, 1979, authorizing the use of “all available means” to forestall the effects of John Paul’s policy of challenging Soviet human rights violations.

We know that the assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, was a professional killer who somehow escaped from a Turkish military prison shortly after that 1979 decree was issued and received further training in a Syrian camp run by Soviet bloc intelligence services. We know that, after meeting with a Soviet intelligence officer in Tehran, Agca got into Bulgaria with the help of the Bulgarian security services and lived for two months in a luxury hotel in Sofia. We know that Agca’s finances were handled by a Turk, associated with communist intelligence services, who subsequently died in unexplained circumstances.

What we do not have is documentary evidence that all of this was done on the direct orders of Andropov, or Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, or both. But we do know that, as the Bulgarian spooks would have hesitated to change the brand of soap in their office washrooms without permission from Moscow Center, they certainly wouldn’t have run an operation against John Paul II on their own.

And now we know something else, thanks to an achingly dull, three-volume history of the schedule of Leonid Brezhnev, published three years ago in Russia.        Andrzej Grajewski plowed through these materials, concentrating on Brezhnev’s activities in April and May 1981 (shortly after Agca, by then in Zurich, met with several shady characters to complete the logistical and financial arrangements for the assassination attempt, which was set for May 13, 1981). Over the course of his reign as de facto head of the Soviet Union from 1964 to 1982, Brezhnev did not meet all that often with Andropov, the KGB spymaster. But the tempo of their meetings increased dramatically in April and May 1981, as did the frequency of their phone conversations. Why this sudden intensification of contact between the Soviet chieftain and Andropov, at that precise time? Inquiring minds will wonder.

As they will wonder about Brezhnev’s schedule on May 13, 1981. That morning, Brezhnev met with a delegation from the Congo to sign several agreements. About 1 p.m., he came to his Kremlin office and worked by himself on documents; but the schedule does not indicate that he met with anyone that entire afternoon, nor did he make any phone calls. What was he waiting for? Was news anticipated? After 6 p.m.  — i.e., soon after Agca’s fired his shots in St. Peter’s Square — Brezhnev left the Kremlin for his residence in the Moscow suburbs. The next day he met in the Kremlin with Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko, and on May 15, with Yuri Andropov.

Andrzej Grajewski’s careful but suggestive conclusion: “Does such a sequence of events prove that Brezhnev was informed about…the attack? We do not know that. Assuming that the idea of assassinating the Pope had arisen in the Soviet leadership, Brezhnev knew when it would happen. Of course, the records of [his] Kremlin schedule are not irrefutable evidence in this matter. However, they indicate that… May 13, 1981…was not a routine day for [Brezhnev]. His schedule shows that, during almost 18 years at the pinnacle of power, there was only one day, May 13, 1981, when Brezhnev’s attention was not absorbed by acting, directing, managing — but perhaps waiting for something to happen.”

Inquiring minds wonder.

Featured image: © L’Osservatore Romano