- Former U.S. Congresswoman
- Former Member of the Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus
Born in Atlanta, Georgia in March 1955, Cynthia McKinney was a Democratic Member of Congress from 1993-2003, and again from 2005-2007.
McKinney earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations from the University of Southern California, and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. After completing her formal education, she worked as a high-school teacher and later as a professor at Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, and Agnes Scott College.
McKinney’s political career began in 1986 when her father, who held a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives, submitted her name as a write-in candidate for the Georgia state house. She lost the election, but two years later she ran again for the same seat and won -- making the McKinneys the first father-daughter tandem ever to serve simultaneously in the Georgia state house.
In 1991 Cynthia McKinney was given a seat on the committee responsible for redrawing Georgia’s congressional districts, some of which were gerrymandered to guarantee the election of African Americans. In 1992 McKinney ran and won in one of those gerrymandered districts -- the 11th -- which she had helped design.
In 1995 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 11th District was an unconstitutional gerrymander because its boundaries had been drawn exclusively on the basis of race. Consequently, McKinney's district was reconfigured and renumbered as the 4th District. Notwithstanding this change, McKinney easily won re-election to Congress in the subsequent elections of 1996, 1998, and 2000.
In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, McKinney sparked controversy when she struck a conciliatory note with a Saudi prince, Alwaleed bin Talal, who had tried to use his $10 million 9/11 charity donation as a platform from which to criticize U.S. support for Israel. After New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani refused to accept the prince’s check, McKinney wrote an open letter to the prince, stating:
“Let me say that there are a growing number of people in the United States who recognize, like you, that U.S. policy in the Middle East needs serious examination.... Your Royal Highness, many of us here in the United States have long been concerned about reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that reveal a pattern of excessive, and often indiscriminate, use of lethal force by Israeli security forces in situations where Palestinian demonstrators were unarmed and posed no threat of death or serious injury to the security forces or to others.”
As a result of this letter, McKinney fell out of favor with many voters who previously had supported her. Her popularity waned further as a result of several additional factors: (a) her implication that President Bush, with foreknowledge that the 9/11 attacks were imminent, had knowingly permitted the attacks to take place because of the financial and political benefits they would bring him; (b) the fact that she had taken large political campaign contributions from Muslim advocacy groups such as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee; (c) the support she had happily accepted from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan; (d) her use of New Black Panther Party personnel as security guards; and (e) indications that some of her closest aides were anti-Semitic. In November 2001, for instance, a member of her congressional staff, Raeed Tayeh, criticized "these pro-Israeli lawmakers [who] sit on the House International Relations Committee despite the obvious conflict of interest that their emotional attachments to Israel cause"; he added that "the Israeli occupation of all territories must end, including Congress."
The foregoing controversies caused McKinney to lose her congressional seat to DeKalb County judge Denise Majette in the 2002 Democratic primary.
At this point, McKinney took a position as Visiting Professor at Cornell University. Wrote Cornell Professor Emeritus Peter Swartz: “The selection of Cynthia McKinney as a … professor is an affront to the intellectualism of Cornell University. Ms. McKinney is a racist and anti-Semite of the first rank. If she were white and male, she would be David Duke. It is unfortunate that the selection committee was so open minded that its collective brain fell on floor.”
In addition to her teaching post at Cornell, McKinney in 2003 and 2004 toured America and much of Europe -- speaking out against the Iraq War and the Bush administration. Still embittered by her 2002 primary defeat to Majette, in January 2004 McKinney told a Jet magazine interviewer that the “white, rich Democratic boys club wanted [her] to stay in the back of the bus.”
In May 2004 McKinney was awarded the fifth annual Backbone Award by the Backbone Campaign “because she was willing to challenge the Bush administration and called for an investigation into 9-11 when few others dared to air their criticism and questions.”
In 2004, both the Green Party and the Workers World Party tried to recruit McKinney to represent them in that year’s presidential election. But McKinney was intent on regaining her congressional seat, which she did by winning almost 64 percent of the vote in the November general election.
McKinney was an outspoken member of both the Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus. Americans for Democratic Action rated her voting record as being 95 percent on the left side of legislation. During her congressional career, she voted:
- against the development of a national missile defense system;
- against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001;
- against the post-9/11 anti-terrorism measure known as the Patriot Act;
- against allowing the U.S. government to use electronic surveillance to investigate suspected terrorist operatives;
- against an October 2002 joint resolution authorizing U.S. military action in Iraq;
- against the establishment of military commissions to try enemy combatants captured in the war on terror;
- in favor of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq immediately and by a preordained date;
- against the Real ID Act, which proposed to set minimal security requirements for state driver licenses and identification cards;
- against separate proposals calling for the construction of some 700 miles of fencing to prevent illegal immigration along America's southern border;
- against a proposal to grant state and local officials the authority to investigate, identify, and arrest illegal immigrants;
- against major tax cut proposals in September 1998, March 2000, May 2001, and May 2006;
- against a welfare reform bill designed to move people off the welfare rolls and into paying jobs;
- in favor of prohibiting oil and gas exploration in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR);
- against a proposal to fund offshore oil exploration along the Outer Continental Shelf;
- against school vouchers in Washington, DC;
- against ending racial preferences in college admissions;
- in favor of legislation to impose nationwide same-day voter registration on election days (a move that would have eliminated most checks and safeguards that prevent fraudulent voting); and
- in favor of cutting U.S. aid to Israel.
Although nominally a Roman Catholic, McKinney had a 100 percent pro-choice voting record, according to the abortion-rights group NARAL. In 2000 she voted against legislation to ban the procedure commonly known as partial-birth abortion. That same year, she was one of only 15 Members of Congress to vote against the “Born-Alive Infants Protection Act,” which stipulated that if an infant somehow survived an abortion procedure, it would acquire the human rights of a person already born.
A supporter of reparations payments to black Americans, McKinney said in April 2002: “Eight generations of African-Americans are still waiting to achieve their rights — compensation and restitution for the hundreds of years during which they were bought and sold on the market.”
Of Marxist President Robert Mugabe’s racist policy of confiscating all white farms in Zimbabwe, McKinney said: “To any honest observer, Zimbabwe's sin is that it has taken the position to right a wrong, whose resolution has been too long overdue — to return its land to its people.”
On March 29, 2006, McKinney raised a firestorm of controversy when she struck a Capitol Police officer. The incident developed when McKinney, who was not wearing an identification badge, bypassed a metal detector as she entered the Longworth House Office Building. An officer, not recognizing her, twice asked her to go back through the checkpoint, but McKinney ignored him. The officer then reached out and grabbed her arm, at which point McKinney turned around and beat the officer's chest numerous times. An angry McKinney later characterized the officer's actions as an example of racial profiling and part of a larger pattern of Capitol Police mistreating blacks. In a press conference following the incident, no fellow House members stood with McKinney to show support. Instead she was accompanied by actor Danny Glover and singer Harry Belafonte.
At the end of the 2006 legislative session, McKinney introduced articles of impeachment against George W. Bush, accusing the President of: “actively manipulating the intelligence on Iraq’s alleged weapons programs”; “obstructing and hindering the work of Congressional investigative bodies”; “seeking to expand the scope of the powers of his office”; and carrying out an allegedly illegal program of domestic spying on terror suspects.
Becoming an embarrassment to her constituents, McKinney was defeated by DeKalb County Commissioner Hank Johnson in the 2006 Democratic Primary. She left the Democratic Party in September 2007 and eventually ran for President on the Green Party ticket in 2008.
At a September 2008 press conference, McKinney announced that a constituent’s son (who was a National Guardsman) claimed to have disposed of some 5,000 dead bodies for the Defense Department during the week of Hurricane Katrina (in September 2005). The bodies, she elaborated, were those of prisoners who had all been shot in the head, execution-style, and dumped into a Louisiana swamp. According to McKinney, this tale had been corroborated by anonymous “insider” sources.
In 2008 McKinney became a member of the newly formed organization Free Gaza. In this capacity, she worked closely with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. She also worked closely with ISM founder Huwaida Arraf; former Palestinian Authority presidential candidate Mustafa Barghouti (cousin of Marwan Barghouti, who founded the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades); Sami al-Hajj, an Al Jazeera reporter and a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay with ties to Osama bin Laden; ICAHD founder Jeff Halper; and journalist Yvonne Ridley.
When two deadly terrorist bombs were detonated on Boston street on April 15, 2013, McKinney, implying that city police officers may have been to blame, tweeted: "The pattern is becoming too,too familiar. So, Boston cops were having a 'bomb squad drill' on the same day as ..."
In September 2013 McKinney accompanied Ramsey Clark in a delegation to Syria, in support of the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The delegation was sponsored by the revolutionary socialist group International Answer. Others in the delegation included Arab Americans for Syria activist Johnny Achi, and All-African People’s Revolutionary Party member Dedon Kamathi. During her stay in Syria, McKinney praised the Assad regime on her Facebook page for its socially progressive policies:
"I am in Syria now with former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, where residents enjoy free education and free healthcare. … Visited a Damascus hospital, the Grand Mufti, a school that has been turned into residences for Internally Displaced Persons. Ended the Day with Ogarit Dandash who founded 'Over Our Dead Bodies,' a group of young people who climbed atop Mount Qasioun and dared U.S. bombs to target them. They are still there in defiant resistance to any war against Syria. Mount Qasioun should be the site of a peace party, not bombing strikes."
In July 2016, McKinney posted a tweet that linked Israel to a pair of recent Islamic terrorist attacks that had occurred in Nice, France and Munich, Germany. Her tweet read: "Same Israeli photographer captures Nice and Munich tragedies. How likely is that? Remember the Dancing Israelis?" The latter was a reference to an Internet myth claiming that some Israelis had celebrated the 9/11/01 al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon..
McKinney's tweet also contained a link to a video about Richard Gutjahr, the man who had photographed both attacks. That video: (a) showed an article with the headline: "Same Israeli photo-propagandist pre-positioned in Nice AND NOW MUNICH"; and (b) showed a man saying, "The fact that this guy happened to be at both, there's no way it's a coincidence.... [I]t's 100 percent clear that Israel's fingerprints are all over these events."