KANSAS: Lawrence DSA Tries to Cover Up Allegations of Sexual Abuse with Bureaucracy and Red-Baiting

Photo: Left to Right, LKDSA affiliates Brian Thomas (accused of rape), Dan Jensen (accused of sexual misconduct), and Leo Niehorster-Cook (accused of sexual misconduct).

By The Incendiary Editorial Board

Over the past week, events have publicly unfolded surrounding the Lawrence, Kansas Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (LKDSA) which have exposed attempts to undermine and derail allegations of sexual assault and harassment, as well as efforts by some in leadership to obstruct investigations and sanctions for abusers.

The allegations come from primarily two women and center on three men, two of which stand accused of repeated unwanted sexual advances (Dan Jensen and Leo Niehorster-Cook) and the third of rape (Brian Thomas). The victims, as well as their supporters, have also accused LKDSA Treasurer Sam Allison-Natale and LKDSA Labor Committee chair Hannah Allison-Natale (who is also a member of the National Political Committee) of ignoring the accusations and failing to take appropriate action to sanction abusers and enact justice. All of this information was publicly published online and subsequently responded to by Sam Allison-Natale.

The first victim’s testimony (Incendiary encourages readers to read the statements) describes how the Allison-Natale pair worked with abuser Dan Jensen, attempting to “set him up” with his victim by intentionally leaving him alone with her and encouraging him to make advances. Jensen is said to have repeatedly broken appropriate boundaries with unwanted touching and kissing.

The first testimony also reveals that Brian Thomas exploited her housing situation when she had nowhere to stay, in order to manipulate her into staying in his house and trying repeatedly to get her to come into his bed; culminating in an episode where he drugged her drink in order to rape her.

The second victim’s account details the sexual harassment at the hands of Leo Niehorster-Cook, leader of Kansas University’s Young DSA chapter. He would do things like intensely stare at the victim often, follow her, find accidental reasons to touch her, and when she would rebuff his advances he would bombard her with messages and even wait outside her apartment. She described him as “a predator with no respect for anyone or anything but [his] own self-interest.”

Both of the victims anticipated that their cases would be swept under the rug via the endless DSA bureaucracy, a traumatic experience in itself which was considered by them to be a harmful dead end. Rightist leaders like Sam Allison-Natale have only encouraged more bureaucratic red-tape in response to the allegations in what must be viewed as an attempt to discourage victims from coming forward. This tactic is common with sexual abuse cover-ups as a means of avoiding struggle on the terms of the aggrieved party, in favor of protecting the accused.

In response to the public allegations, Sam Allison-Natale proceeded to use red-baiting attacks against then-fellow DSA members who were defending and assisting the survivors so that they might find dignity beyond the bureaucracy of the DSA. Allison-Natale accused these supporters of being agents of the concluded project “Red Guards,” as well as “sectarians,” and “Maoists.” Stating is his official response that “these leaders [in reference to those who defended the victims] publicly endorsed the Red Guard attacks on Kansas City DSA. I posted in the DSA forums about the danger of Red Guard sympathizers spreading to other chapters, and the entire group came out in support of the Red Guard.”

Sam Allison-Natale uses “Maoist,” etc. as a pejorative, because Maoists have always and will always struggle against rapists, their collaborators and men in power taking the capitalist road. It is an “insult” they have earned through organizing and fighting alongside women against abusers, a true nightmare for someone in Allison-Natale’s position.

The Kansas City disruption and physical confrontation described in his response which took place last month was in fact against a man named Carl in the DSA who has also been accused of covering up allegations, just like the Allison-Natale duo.  Carl, unlike Sam and Hannah Allison-Natale and those they protect, got a taste of people’s justice while attending and defending a DSA event disrupted by anti-revisionists.

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Anti-revisionists confront Kansas City DSA event

Contrary to the conspiracy theories peddled by DSA members and leaders, nationally as well as in Lawrence, there is no Maoist entryist plot in the DSA. These rightists merely attack their own left-wing as “Maoists” because they wish to keep abusive people, usually their close and personal friends, in power and because they are fundamentally anti-communist.

Whether the left-wing people in DSA rise up against abusers all on their own or with inspiration from others is not that important. What is important is that they do rise up. It is always right to rebel against reactionaries and that is the fundamental content of all Marxism. Instead of critically evaluating their own shortcomings, instead of allowing and encouraging women to struggle directly against those who harm them, the dominant faction of the DSA would rather tremble at the specter of the “Red Guards,” treating all issues as external and thereby deflecting from the fact that these allegations are damning, numerous, and unsettling.

Sam Allison-Natale further accused the supporters of the victims of creating a faction opposed to him in order to maintain their control of the chapter, in spite of the fact that those who stood in opposition to the cover-up promptly resigned from the organization.

This too is a matter of politics and not simply “factionalism.” The right-wing led by the Allison-Natale clique used real grievances as cause to red-bait, while the left-wing rallied around the survivor and made the principled decision to resign from a corrupt and reactionary organization which would cover things up in this fashion. Two-line struggles exist in all organizations, even internally to all individuals, divided along left and right. Even if DSA does not believe in dialectical materialism, its laws still apply to their organization, and one always divides into two.

It must be understood that those who survive violent sexual abuse face doubt, scrutiny and slander at the hands of the police and the courts when they muster the strength to come forward. In social-democratic and other revisionist organizations, they are submitted to an equally invalidating bureaucracy. They are expected to file a grievance and wait around while some unknown official, who they have no reason to trust, makes  a poorly informed analysis of their often traumatic experiences, usually for the sake of closing a case and not for attaining anything resembling justice.

Meanwhile, the abusers, usually in or connected to a position of power or authority, continue socializing with their victim pool—other women in the left and in many cases continue posing a direct threat to their existing victims. This disturbing story takes place in the left in every city and is most prevalent in organizations like the DSA, which lack both membership standards and political principles due to the opportunist nature of social-democracy. In such conditions, refusal to accept official bureaucracy and to instead reclaim some of what was lost by fighting back, is not only reasonable but highly commendable.

According to the first survivor who came forward, the process employed by the DSA felt like “drowning.”

“Filing a police report and filing a grievance report are both processes that claim to help you climb out of the pool,” she said, “that claim to offer oxygen but instead, both processes only teach you how to drown. I decided not to drown.”

Her statement went on to elaborate how such sexist abuse is harmful to the whole organization and whatever its work entails. “It’s a tragedy, in a way, because we could have unionized an entire workplace, organized an entire apartment building, recorded an entire police force, or elected an entire School Board in the time we spent learning not to drown and planning to learn to breathe again.”

What is clear is that the DSA and its right-wing in Lawrence have created an environment hostile to working women, and as a result those with left-wing and revolutionary proletarian viewpoints have divided themselves from such a brood of rats and have sought better organizing efforts together, united against abuse.

Incendiary stands in solidarity with all survivors of sexual abuse and reactionary violence, as well with all those who dare to struggle and dare to win against corrupt and decrepit organizations which side with abusive men.

Membership reactions to these accusations on the private DSA national message board were mixed. A clear majority of members blamed the specter of Maoist entryism, while a few paid lip service to the fact that the DSA has no decent way to deal with allegations. Most, just like Allison-Natale, called for more bureaucracy and tended to blame victims for being uncooperative.

Some users were in full-on panic, one stating “this is going to be the issue that kills us. If we do not find a way to rise above it.” Others expressed fears that they would suffer the fate of the now-demolished International Socialist Organization, which was ripped apart and dissolved under similar circumstances.

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Screenshot from DSA online discussion board
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Screenshot from DSA online discussion board

Incendiary extends our solidarity to all those who fight against sexist abuse, big and small, even within organizations we consider hostile to the revolution in this country. Everyone in the DSA who chooses to stand against sexist abuse must speak up, loudly and publicly in the brave tradition of those in Lawrence.  They must dare to unseat abusive men and all those who rally around them. They must go against the tide in a big way.

To be called a Maoist is a good thing. Maoists are principled in their opposition to watered-down bourgeois parties of the old type, but they are no sectarians. If you wish to fight abusers, Maoists will defend your fight and fight right beside you.

May the courage of the survivors and their supporters in Lawrence spread like wildfire through the DSA and dash it into a million pieces!