It seems to be happening more often these days, but history is replete with celebrities endorsing dictators murderers and thugs, providing evidence that celebrity does not equate to intelligence or moral compass. Here are the ten most egregious celebrity endorsements of dictators in the 20th and 21st centuries. The definition of endorsement here is broad it includes deeds as well as words. The ranking is based on a mix of three factors - the star power of the celebrities in question, the evilness of the endorsed dictator and the potential impact of the endorsement.
There are a few dishonorable mentions before we start with the list. Hillary Swank and Jean Claude Van Damme attended a birthday bash held for Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, responsible for torture, killings abductions and more by human rights groups. Swank did later apologize but fell squarely in the camp of useful idiots at the time of the event. Her apology was quickly accepted by the left, or at least at Huffington Post. Useful idiots aren't as common as you think, and the left needs them. This doesn't make the list since attending the event was less an endorsement than just plain dumb.
Another dishonorable mention goes collectively to Beyonce, Usher, Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado and 50 Cent for putting on a concert for the barbaric sons of the barbaric Libyan strongman Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and taking money for it. They reportedly all agreed to donate the money to charity. Again, this is more a matter of not thinking through a situation rather than endorsing a dictator. But to do business with someone so brutal and repressive, even through stupidity, is myopic and ill-informed. In addition to donating the money, a clear no-brainer, condemning the leader would have been a courageous and meaningful distancing of themselves from the terrorist.
(10) Danny Glover endorses Fidel Castro. Castro was a horrible deluded dictator who has kept his nation in poverty while offering up free health care and claiming moral superiority as cover. Meanwhile, Danny Glover is a Hollywood star but not a big star. His endorsement of Castro may have some impact with fans but I suspect his efforts to preach about Cuba will very little effect on anyone, since Castro himself was no longer the political celeb du jour at the time of Glover's support that he was at the time of his revolution. Glover has also more recently supported Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, but by the time of that support, Glover's career has become more of a footnote than anything substantial. What did Glover do to endorse Castro? This.
Glover was a signatory to “The Conscience of the World,” a public letter (signed by 160 artists and performers) which condemned the War in Iraq and pledged support for Fidel Castro's Communist dictatorship in Cuba. Glover and Castro are close personal friends. According to the state-controlled Cuban newspaper Granma International, “There’s an intense relationship between Danny Glover and Havana. It was love at first sight, and not only has it stood the test of his frequent visits, but it is growing deeper and deeper, through discoveries and affinities.”
Glover also supports Not In Our Name, the Revolutionary Communist Party movement which “pledges resistance to [America's] endless war, detentions and roundups, [and] attacks on civil liberties.”
(9) Salman Rushdie alongside Daniel Ortega. Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses and recipient of a fatwa death sentence from Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, had a lot of conservatives rush to his defense from a freedom of speech perspective. Still in agreement that he deserves the freedom of speech to write his novels and speak his mind, most of us did not realize, Rushdie endorsed Nicaraguan socialist dictator Daniel Ortega - leader of the brutal Sandanista regime. Salman Rushdie actually had inside access to the Sandanistas during the Revolution.
Salman Rushdie began his interest in Nicaragua as a left liberal working for justice for Nicaragua. He spent three weeks with various high ranking members of the Sandinista Party during the time of Contra attacks. The World Court had ruled against the US and ordered it to pay reparations to Nicaragua, whose population at the time was under 3 million. Rushdie said that conservative estimates of the CIA's budget against Nicaragua in 1986-87 were around $400 million, with $300 million going to influence Nicaragua's neighbors, "...
Rushdie saw an imperfect state, but believed that it was better than it was bad. "And imperfection, even the deep flaw of censorship, did not constitute a justification for being crushed by a super-power's military and economic force." He remembered debates with Mario Vargas Llosa, who had insisted that the democratic process was the only way to break the cycle of revolution and dictatorship in Latin America. Llosa supported the right in his native country of Peru and did not support what he felt was happening in Nicaragua...
Rushdie's fame as a fiction writer allowed him access to people who would not be as available to other visitors. He did his homework and was an acute observer, though sometimes less than candid about everything he saw. His Preface to the 1997 Edition corrects some of these omissions, and brings the story forward ten years. He said of the Sandinistas as they left office, "Now, in their fall, they had behaved, once again simultaneously, like true democrats and also like true Latin American oligarchs."
Daniel Ortega's Sandanistas governed a smaller country thus limiting the potential scope of their brutality and oppression. Rushdie meanwhile has the backing of considerable fame thanks to the controversy surrounding The Satanic Verses. His celebrity does provide cover to Ortega, who has in fact returned to power in 2006.
(8) Sean Penn interviews the Castro brothers. We all know Sean Penn is an misguided and irate leftist. He's punched photographers and picked the wrong side in pretty much every political issue. Heck, he even married Madonna. Penn has done enough to make me question the entire Irish side of my heritage. After interviewing Raul Castro, Penn angled to interview the retired Fidel Castro as well. The intention to interview either Castro displays a predisposition to the views of the communist brothers that is simultaneously disturbing and telling. Penn went on to write exhaustively about it on Huffington Post. It was friendly to say the least.
Castro had read pieces I had published in the San Francisco Chronicle from my trips to Iraq and Iran. We talked for three or so hours, and the passion of this dynamic figure of walking-breathing history had intensified my growing interest in Latin American history. Before we parted ways, we all took a few pictures together, and with Fidel standing in his signature green fatigues and cap, one arm around my son and the other around my daughter with their beaming smiles, I said, "Commandante, when people see this picture, they're going to joke that I'm raising my children to be revolutionaries."
Penn used the post (actually, there were two) to opine on the virtues of socialism and the evils of capitalism. Penn deliberately avoids the virtues of capitalism and the numerous pitfalls of socialism.
Free market capitalism and greed in the hands of humans are, in fact, a marriage that never rids itself of the demon. They are of one body. It can be said that Ronald Reagan marked the end of the Roosevelt era, and perhaps, that Barack Obama may mark the end of Reagan's. But historically, our system is a swing, we raise high to the breeze at our back, swing low, nearly taking off our feet, then sway high again to the wind in our face. But that low swing, never low enough to pick up the men and women on the ground. It is a human cycle subject to a monetary one. But with population exploding globally, we seem to tighten up the links and raise the seat higher with every cycle. More and more are left off the swing below. In the last days of this year's presidential campaign, the outcry from the right, and the cry out from the left, has rejuvenated the fears, the possibilities, the values, and the necessity to consider aspects of socialism.
As Americans, we are citizens of a complex society, and the aspiration, at least, is to think with the complexity that will match it. In the best of times, in my life as an American, there have been several Americas. There is the America of the wealthy and corporate elite. An America of the middle and lower middle-classes. And there are the millions of poor, plagued by joblessness, inadequate education, inadequate or no healthcare, racial prejudices, and a trickle down philosophy of economics, where what trickles is caught and recycled before it ever reaches bottom. It is what, in my first meeting with President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, he referred to as "an unsustainable society." Should our country fear socialism, while blindly advocating capitalism? Are there models of sustainable societies? Do we prefer unsustainability to change if any aspect of that change could be defined as "socialist?"
Penn has a lot of clout on the left. While he is preaching to the choir by engaging the Castros, he can be regarding as keeping them engaged politically and that has a deleterious effect on capitalism and liberty as they will turn out to vote if encouraged to do so. The Castros of course were dictators and brutal to the people of Cuba. Supporting them is supporting murderers but Penn thinks he knows better.
(7) Oliver Stone lionizes Hugo Chavez. Not only does Oliver Stone like the former Venezuelan dictator, he attempted to lionize the brute in a documentary entitled South of the Border. Time magazine surprisingly notes the bias (emphasis added),
The 70-minute movie — which was co-written by the British-Pakistani commentator Tariq Ali, author of the 2006 study Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope, and photographed in part by docu-doyen Albert Maysles — is amateur night as cinema, as lopsided and cheerleadery as its worldview. U.S. foreign policy, Stone asserts, divides South American nations into "friends, whose leaders do what we tell them to do, and enemies, whose leaders occasionally disagree with us." His film is no more nuanced. He sees the geopolitical glass as all empty (the U.S. and its world-banking arm, the International Monetary Fund) or all full (Chávez and his comrade Presidentes in South America)...
The film's first section briefly synopsizes Chávez's life from his mud-hut birth in Sabaneta to his rise through the Venezuelan military, to his abortive coup attempt in 1992 and his election seven years later to lead the world's third-largest oil provider — increasing the standard of living for many of his country's poor while denying many rights to those, especially in the media, who would oppose him. In the movie's rose-colored lens, the President comes across as an outsize personality, equal parts machismo and charisma. He sounds more sensible than menacing when he says of his government, "This is a revolution, peaceful but armed." Standing near a corn-processing factory, he jokes, "This is where we build the Iranian atomic bomb. A corn bomb."
Every step of the way, Stone is by, and on, on the President's side. He raises no tough issues, some of which are summarized in Amnesty International's 2009 report on Venezuela: "Attacks on journalists were widespread. Human-rights defenders continued to suffer harassment. Prison conditions provoked hunger strikes in facilities across the country." Referring to the 2006 election in which Chávez won a third term, Stone tells viewers that "90% of the media was opposed to him," and yet he prevailed. "There is a lesson to be learned," Stone says. Yes: support the man in power, or your newspaper, radio station or TV network may be in jeopardy.
The endorsement, long and clear does not rank higher by virtue of its lack of visibility. A high profile director, endorsing a high profile dictatorial thug should be right up there with the propaganda of Joseph Goebbels. The difference is that nobody saw this film.
(6) Beyonce and Jay Z visit Cuba. Beyonce had once already made a mistake as mentioned above by performing for the family Libyan terrorist dictator Gaddafi. You'd think she would be careful. Jay Z meanwhile is openly hostile to American virtues. He has already released a song about the trip entitled Open Letter. Even the president, a Jay Z fan and progressive liberal, has distanced himself and the State Department from the trip to Cuba that serves only Cuban propagandists and communist sympathizers like Michael Moore. The White House has denied that they gave clearance for the trip. Jay Z certainly has fame and notoriety but nothing like that of his wife Beyonce. Combined, their considerable presence has potential to be very impactful to both people's opinions and to perhaps even White House positions on the normalization of American-Cuban relations. Communist Cuba's atrocities have already been noted above. While the eventual outcome of the visit has yet to play out, the visit has already made enough impact to put it at #6 of the worst celebrity dictator endorsements of all time.
Tomorrow - the Top 5.