- Supporter of Central American Communists during the Cold War
- Co-chair of Artists United To Win Without War
- Sits on the Middle East Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch
- Anti-death penalty activist
The actor Mike Farrell was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota on February 6, 1939. One of four siblings, he was raised in Hollywood, where his father took a job as a studio carpenter. After graduating from high school, Farrell joined the Marines and thereafter worked for two years as a private investigator.
At that point Farrell decided to pursue his dream of becoming an actor, launching his performing career with small roles in such films as The Graduate and The Americanization of Emily. Soon thereafter he played the part of Scott Banning on the soap opera Days of Our Lives. Farrell's most memorable acting role -- that of the surgeon B.J. Honeycutt on the popular television series "M*A*S*H" -- began in 1975 and ended in 1983, when the program finished its eleven-year run. Since then, Farrell has used his celebrity status as a platform from which to promote a host of leftwing causes.
Throughout the 1980s, Farrell denounced the Reagan administration's efforts to roll back Communism in Central America. Traveling to Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, Farrell condemned U.S. sponsorship of anti-Communist guerillas, though he was silent about the atrocities visited on the civilian populations of those countries by the regnant Communist regimes.
As a member of the Committee of Concern for Central America, a group founded by Farrell's friend and socialist activist Ed Asner, Farrell invited Nicaragua's Communist Sandinista junta leader, Daniel Ortega, for a nine-day publicity tour of American cities to denounce the Reagan administration's opposition to Ortega's dictatorship.
In 1985 Farrell flew to San Salvador to assist Dr. Alejandro Sanchez in performing surgery on Nidia Diaz, a guerrilla leader of the Marxist Revolutionary Party of Central American Workers -- a group that only two months earlier had claimed responsibility for the murder of four U.S. Marines, two American businessmen, and nine civilians.
During a 1996 trip to Cuba, Farrell voiced support for Fidel Castro's dictatorship, ascribing blame for the Cuban people's suffering to the policies of the United States. Wrote Farrell in his travel journal: "In the ensuing decades, as we [the U.S.] have invaded, inveighed, inveigled, threatened, boycotted, manipulated, attempted to assassinate, and nearly triggered a nuclear war in our need to rid the world of the threat of Fidel Castro and his Revolucion, the Cuban Government has gone its sometimes-not-so-merry way, and, in spite of the best efforts of the world's greatest power to squelch it, persevered in its effort to do what it deems best for its people."
Measurably less tolerant was Farrell's characterization of "the violently anti-Castro Cuban exiles" whom he derided as "dangerous proto-Fascists." Farrell also condemned the Clinton administration's refusal to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, a choice Farrell rejected as "clearly an outdated, Cold War-related, right-wing policy" that was "colonialist, imperialist, and racist."
Farrell supported, if with an uneasy conscience, the Clinton administration's military intervention in Kosovo. "I find myself in the peculiar position of being in favor of an intervention and yet unclear that what we are doing is the appropriate thing to do," he told LA Weekly in 1999. "On some level you have to say that at least somebody is doing something."
Eight days after 9/11, Farrell lent his name to a statement titled “Justice not Vengeance,” which declared: “We foresee that a military response would not end the terror. Rather, it would spark a cycle of escalating violence, the loss of innocent lives, and new acts of terrorism. As citizens of this great nation, we support the efforts being made to find those behind the acts of terror. Bringing them to justice under the rule of law -- not military action -- is the way to end the violence.” Other notable signatories included Danny Glover, Randy Hayes, Michael Klare, Michael Lerner, Bonnie Raitt, Michael Ratner, Edward Said, Martin Sheen, Gloria Steinem, Harry Belafonte, John Cavanagh, Medea Benjamin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Margaret Gage, Cora Weiss, Ruby Dee, and Ossie Davis.
Farrell further expressed his anti-war sentiments in the 2002 book My America: What My Country Means to Me, by 150 Americans from All Walks of Life. In his contribution to this screed, Farrell criticized the national unity that Americans displayed after 9/11. He wrote:
"Simplistic nationalism trumped thoughtful leadership and declared crusade. Six-gun justice -- wanted dead or alive -- with us or with the terrorists. Thus the din of bombs and wounded shrieks of defenseless people become white noise muted by flapping flags and blaring horns as thousands die because thousands died … Muted protests rise, are stifled, rise again. Collateral damage, tiger cages, lip service to values, addiction to violence, allegiance to oil, death to the innocent. Is this what we fight to preserve? Who are you, America?"
As a U.S. invasion of Iraq seemed increasingly likely in early 2003, Farrell condemned the George W. Bush administration's “rush to war” as a scheme founded on “the desire to establish an American empire with a foothold in the Middle East.”
As co-chair of Artists United To Win Without War (AUWWW), Farrell (who also had opposed the 1991 Gulf War) raised some $300,000 for the production of anti-war ads and a website for his organization. In addition, he authored the AUWWW petition that stated, "We reject the doctrine -- a reversal of long-held American tradition -- that our country, alone, has the right to launch first-strike attacks."
In Farrell's calculus, United Nations sanctions against Iraq were an adequate means of preventing any future Iraqi attempts to commit or finance acts of terrorism. He also predicted that Saddam would eventually bend to the same international dictates he had spent fully twelve years defying.
Farrell serves as President of the California-based organization Death Penalty Focus, an anti-capital punishment group. Having penned anti-death penalty articles in The Nation, Farrell believes that the American justice system is inherently unfair to minorities -- as evidenced by "the preponderance of minorities on death row." He also impugns "the institutional racism and corruption on the part of ambitious prosecutors." "Not unlike the drug war," says Farrell," "the death penalty is a political tool that has nothing to do with justice and is not good social policy. Both are the result of ambitious politicians looking to push emotional buttons that can ensure their political power. They're certainly more interested in that than in solving social problems and ensuring the public safety."
In October 2005, Farrell embarked on a crusade to commute the death sentence of the leftist icon and convicted multiple murderer Stanley “Tookie” Williams, co-founder of the violent “Crips” street gang. “I've met Stanley and found him a very impressive man,” Farrell wrote in an open letter. “I know of the positive influence he has become for young people all over the world through the books he has written and the letters and speaking he has done… There is no value to us or to our society in killing this man.”
Farrell also has expressed support for the convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal, who sits on death row.
Today Farrell is a member of Human Rights Watch's Middle East Advisory Committee, and a Board of Directors member of Concern America, which describes itself as "an international development and refugee aid organization that provides long-term, community-based development and support to economically impoverished communities throughout the world."
For his many activist endeavors, Farrell has received the "Civil Liberties Champion Award" from the ACLU of San Diego; the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ "Humanitarian Award"; the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s "Voices of Courage & Conscience Award"; the PETA "Humanitarian Award"; Oxfam America’s "Partner's Award"; and the "Abolitionist Award" given by Death Penalty Focus.
Farrell is married to actress Shelley Fabares, who joined Farrell, Martin Sheen, Bonnie Raitt, and Susan Sarandon in signing a letter to President Bush urging against an invasion of Iraq.
In 2006 Farrell collaborated with musician Jello Biafra and film director Keith Gordon in producing the anti-Iraq War documentary, Whose War?
In March 2007 Farrell published his autobiography, titled Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist. Today he plays a recurring role on the TV show Desperate Housewives.
Over the years, Farrell has given money to the campaigns of numerous Democratic political candidates, including John Kerry, Tom Harkin, Barbara Boxer, Ralph Nader, Russell Feingold, and Howard Dean.