Nat Hentoff “called himself a troublemaker and proved it with a shelf of books and a mountain of essays on free speech, wayward politics, elegant riffs and the sweet harmonies of the Constitution, died on Saturday at his home in Manhattan,” the New York Times reported. “He was 91.”
Nat was part of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee before the organization existed. Soon after the USA PATRIOT Act was passed, he wrote in the Village Voice about the need for a grassroots movement. Meanwhile, I’d worked with activists in Northampton, Massachusetts, on a campaign to pass a city council resolution upholding the Bill of Rights, and I had also networked with allies in nearby Amherst and Leverett, whose town meetings also passed resolutions. A search on the Internet uncovered related resolutions in Denver and Ann Arbor, so I sent Nat and other journalists a press release about the five resolutions and our website tools to help community groups to pass more.
It was exactly what Nat had envisioned. He phoned immediately to let me know he was writing an article about our group and work, and he did—again and again—in the Village Voice, The Progressive, Editor and Publisher, and more. With each of Nat’s articles our movement grew, and other journalists (who all have a vested interest in the First Amendment) joined him. Eventually his writings were compiled in a book, The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance (Seven Stories Press, 2003).
Nat served on BORDC’s Advisory Board with distinction. My communication with Nat was via phone, postal service, and in person. He was the only newsletter reader who received our e-newsletter by mail, and he read every issue, stayed up to date on the resolutions, and championed progress across the country in every way he could find and celebrated every milestone.
Were it not for Nat, the national grassroots movement to defend the Bill of Rights may not have taken hold. Thank you, Nat Hentoff and farewell to a true Son of Liberty.
Some excerpts from Nat’s writing about BORDC:
Nat reported on that first town hall meeting in Northampton, Massachusetts,
In the spirit of the Sons of Liberty, on February 4 of this year, some 300 citizens of Northampton, Massachusetts, held a town meeting to organize ways to—as they put it—protect the residents of the town from the Bush-Ashcroft USA Patriot Act. On that night, the Northampton Bill of Rights Defense Committee began a new American Revolution. Similar committees are organizing around the country.
And he followed along as resolution after resolution was passed across the country. Lauding the growing movement opposing the PATRIOT Act and other civil liberties abominations, Hentoff wrote:
This grassroots network of freedom fighters actually began independently, with a meeting of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee in Northampton, Massachusetts, in February of this year. Now, spurred by the Massachusetts initiative, 15 city or town councils around the country have passed resolutions aimed at protecting their citizens from General Ashcroft. And other such affirmations of the Bill of Rights are pending in 40 other town and cities in 24 states.
Here is a selection of articles by Hentoff about our movement:
Ashcroft Watch: Grassroots Patriots, July 2002, The Progressive,
July 1- July 8, 2002, Nat Hentoff, Editor & Publisher, The Sons of Liberty and their contemporary heirs
Coming to Our Defense: Citizens are Joining up to Protect Liberty in War on Terrorism, July 15, 2002, Legal Times,
And from the Village Voice:
The Sons and Daughters of Liberty, 6/25/2002
Resistance Rising, 11/26/2002
The New American Freedom Fighters, 12/3/2002
100th Civil Liberties Safe Zone!, 6/3/2003
J.Edgar Hoover, Back at the ‘New’ FBI, 12/9/2003
The Diminishing of John Ashcroft, 2/10/2004
Cloud Over the Constitution, 10/07/2004
Joining the War Over the Constitution, 10/22/2008
Nancy Talanian founded BORDC and served as executive director from 2002 through 2008