- New York-based Marxist attorney
- Has represented Islamic terrorists, American terrorists, and cop killers
- Represented 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman
- Former co-host of a WABC radio program
A disciple of the late radical attorney William Kunstler, Ron Kuby is a New York-based criminal defense and civil rights lawyer who, like Kunstler, thinks of himself as one of modern America's “movement” layers, by which he means attorneys who “identify with the people they represent … with their determination, with their courage.”
Born in Cleveland, Ohio on July 31, 1956, Kuby developed a penchant for political activism from an early age. “I was always an activist,” he recalls. “I mean active as a liberal. I went to a Joan Baez concert when I was seven years old, and we were all swaying – that kind of stuff.” At his junior high school in Long Island, New York, Kuby was nearly expelled for publishing an underground student newsletter about Kunstler and the Chicago Seven trial.
At age 13, Kuby followed in the footsteps of his father by joining the Jewish Defense League (JDL), a pro-Israel, pro-Zionist organization. During his teens as well, the younger Kuby emigrated to Israel, but he returned home after just a few months because he was repulsed by what he described as the “anti-Arab racism” in Israel. In an interview years later, Kuby reflected:
“I suppose what cured me of that type of Zionism was actually emigrating to Israel. I was expecting to see this paradise of Jews working together, living in peace and harmony with their neighbors ... Instead, what I saw was this terrible racist country in which a small elite of Zionists controlled a Jewish working class and terrorized the Palestinian population. It was like being in the United States, except instead of the White establishment it was the Jewish establishment. I found out that the people I had more in common with, the people whose physical company I enjoyed more, were the Palestinians.”
After graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in cultural anthropology and history in the late 1970s, Kuby lived briefly in Maine before moving to the U.S. Virgin Islands where he worked on tugboats. He then attended Cornell Law School, earning a JD in 1983.
It was in 1982 that Kuby first met William Kunstler and worked for him as a summer intern. The pair quickly formed a bond of friendship and collegiality which would remain strong until Kunstler's death in 1995. Though they never formalized a business partnership, the two attorneys collaborated on a number of notorious criminal cases. “He was always a romantic figure to me,” Kuby recalls. “... He inspired a whole new generation of lawyers, of which I'm one.”
When trying cases in court, Kuby, like Kunstler before him, routinely tries to portray his clients – particularly nonwhites – as victims of a discriminatory and oppressive society, appealing whenever possible to the racial and ethnic biases of some nonwhite jurors. For example, he once declared that “the Bronx civil jury is the greatest tool of wealth redistribution since the Red Army.”
One of Kuby's most infamous clients was Colin Ferguson, a black gunman who -- on December 7, 1993 -- systematically targeted a large number of white and Asian passengers aboard a crowded New York railroad car, killing six and wounding nineteen. When Kuby and Kunstler defended Ferguson in court, they claimed that years of living in a racist and oppressive American society had so clouded their client's mind with “black rage,” that he could not be held responsible for his violent actions. Ferguson, however, rejected this defense strategy and dismissed the attorneys, choosing instead to represent himself before the court and to claim that he was an innocent man who had been framed. Kuby and Kunstler then tried, unsuccessfully, to convince the court that Ferguson was insane. The defendant was eventually convicted and sentenced to six consecutive life terms in prison.
Kuby gained further public notoriety in 1996, when he won a $43 million civil lawsuit for black teenager Darrell Cabey against “subway vigilante” Bernhard Goetz. Goetz was a white man who had shot and paralyzed Cabey when the latter and three accomplices were menacing Goetz aboard a New York City subway car twelve years earlier.
Another of Kuby's more notorious clients was Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, who masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center (WTC) bombing and additional plots to bomb the United Nations, the George Washington Bridge, and the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels. “The 'mastermind' [of the WTC bombing],” Kuby later said, “is the government of the United States. It was a phony, government-engineered 'conspiracy' to begin with. It would never have amounted to anything had the government not planned it.” “Sheikh Omar would have tried, I think, to prevent the World Trade Center bombing if he had known it was coming,” Kuby stated in a 2000 interview. Nor would Kuby concede that Rahman’s well-documented tirades against the perceived enemies of Islam could be interpreted as calls for their murder. To make this point, Kuby once posed the following analogy: “Why wasn't the Pope taken into custody when he visited Denver? He is the spiritual leader of abortion-clinic bombers and doctor killers.”
When fellow radical attorney Lynne Stewart – whom Kuby deeply admired as a “loving and committed” professional – was convicted in 2005 of having illegally abetted Sheikh Omar, Kuby lamented that 9/11 and its aftermath had “created conditions where a fair trial on terrorism charges is all but impossible.” And when Abdel-Rahman died in February 2017, Kuby said that while the sheikh “was an Islamist” who “believed in Sharia law” and wanted to enshrine it in Egypt, “he bore no malice toward the United States or the American people.”
Other high-profile clients who have used Kuby’s services over the years include the daughter of Malcolm X, Qubilah Shabazz, who in 1995 was accused of plotting to murder Louis Farrakhan; Siddig Ibrahim Siddig Ali and Ibrahim A. El-Gabrowny, who were involved in a terrorist conspiracy case linked to the 1993 WTC bombing; Yu Kikumura, a Japanese Red Army terrorist who was arrested in Amsterdam in 1986 when found to be carrying a bomb in his luggage; El Sayyid Nosair, who was convicted of the 1990 murder of JDL founder Meir Kahane, and for his involvement in a 1990s New York City landmark bombing plot; and Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, one of four Somali pirates who had hijacked the U.S. ship Maersk Alabama in the Indian Ocean in April 2009. Kuby has also defended renowned photographer Spencer Tunick (best known for organizing large-scale nude shots); convicted child abuser Jesse Friedman, whose experiences were the subject of the film Capturing the Friedmans; the con artist/robber David Hampton, whose life story was the basis for John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation; the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club; the All-Mighty Latin King and Queen Nation street gang; prominent labor unions; accused airplane hijackers; dozens of conscientious objectors; and plaintiffs in two Supreme Court cases establishing First Amendment protection for flag-burning.
Though Kuby has represented a number of defendants with organized-crime connections (e.g., associates of the Gambino crime family), he resents allegations that he is a mob lawyer. Instead, he claims that the “ruthlessness” and “soullessness” of corporations that view “human life as a commodity” pose a far greater threat to America's well-being than any mafia-type enterprise. “Who's killed more people: John Gotti or the Ford Motor Company with their exploding Pintos?” Kuby once demanded indignantly.
In a January 1998 interview, Kuby said that his political registration card identified him not as a Communist but as a Democrat. “I was Marxist-Leninist. Now I'd say I'm more Marxist-Zeninist.”
In May of 2000, Kuby joined Ossie Davis, Mike Farrell, and members of the Revolutionary Communist Party, the National Lawyers Guild, and the Center for Constitutional Rights in signing a letter supporting protests and civil disobedience on behalf of the convicted cop-killer and Marxist icon Mumia Abu Jamal.
While Kuby acknowledges the historical failures of Marxism, he nonetheless maintains that those failures make no dent in his devotion to that ideology. “Christianity,” Kuby analogized in an interview, “has been around for 2,000 years and they haven't created paradise on earth. Should we throw Christianity out then? Marxism has only been around for 150 years, more or less. So we haven't created paradise yet.” “I really believe that if all the countries of the world were socialist,” added Kuby, “then paradise might be possible.”
In a similar vein, Kuby views capitalism as a principal cause of human evil and suffering throughout the world. He contends, for example, that the United States historically has acquired its wealth from “slavery and ripping off the Third World.”
During Operation Cast Lead, Israel's January 2009 military offensive against Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip, Kuby condemned Israeli forces for inflicting what he considered to be too many casualties on civilians in that region: “How many innocent people do you get to kill in order to protect other innocent people?” Kuby also denounced Israel for not exercising “proportionality” in its fighting, which he defined as “the notion that the damage that you inflict on your enemy in some general way has to be proportionate to the damage that they've inflict on you.” To Israel, lamented Kuby, “Palestinian lives … just don't seem to count.”
Kuby is a longtime member of both the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyer's Guild. In addition to his legal work, he also has had a vibrant radio broadcasting career since 1999. For details about that, click here.
For additional information about Ron Kuby, click here.