- Actor and former president of the Screen Actors Guild
- Longtime opponent of capital punishment
- Opposed the Reagan Administration’s efforts to fight Communism in Central America during the 1980s
- Member of Democratic Socialists of America
- Admires Fidel Castro
- Believes that the Bush Administration may have known in advance that the infamous 9/11 attacks were coming, yet did nothing to stop them
Yitzak Edward Asner was born to Orthodox Jewish immigrant parents on November 15, 1929 in Kansas City, Kansas. He attended the University of Chicago and served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps from 1951-53. Asner is best known for his work as a television actor on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77) and Lou Grant (1977–82). From 1981-85, he served two terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild.
Asner has long identified himself as a socialist who wants the United States to emulate “the Scandinavian countries,” where people are “well taken care of … medicinally, economically, educationally.” A proud member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Asner in 2011 was asked by a reporter, “What have you always really stood for?” The actor replied, “Socialism.”
In the 1980s Asner supported the communist revolutionaries who were fighting for political supremacy in Central America, and he became a vocal critic of the Reagan administration’s effort to thwart them. For instance:
- Asner took part in a fundraiser for medical aid to the communist guerrillas who were battling the Reagan-backed government of El Salvador. The actor also lent his name to a direct-mail piece in support of the communists.
- Asner co-founded a group called Medical Aid for El Salvador, and, in an episode of political theater staged on the steps of the U.S. State Department, he presented a $25,000 check for health clinics in areas controlled by the aforementioned communist guerrillas.
- Another Asner organization, the Committee of Concern for Central America, actively opposed the Reagan administration’s policies in the region. On one occasion, the group invited Nicaraguan Marxist strongman Daniel Ortega to the United States for a nine-day propaganda tour.
Asner made plain his contempt for Reagan in a discussion about the use of taxpayer money to fund the production of obscene artwork like photographer Robert Mapplethorpe‘s infamous “Jim and Tom.” Said Asner: “I consider the Mapplethorpe picture—one man urinating into the mouth of another—as merely a depiction of Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down [economic] theory.”
In 1984 Asner co-sponsored the Ninth Annual Banquet of the Labor Research Association, a Communist Party USA front that worked cooperatively with the World Federation of Trade Unions, a Soviet international front.
In 1985 Asner was a key participant in the Chicago DSA’s annual Eugene Debs/Norman Thomas/Michael Harrington Dinner Banquet, named in honor of three prominent American socialists. Two years later in Terre Haute, Indiana, Asner was honored for his left-wing activism at a Eugene Debs Award Banquet.
In a May 1990 fundraising letter which he wrote on behalf of DSA, Asner condemned the “arbitrary power” of capitalism and urged his readers to support the DSA goal of “fundamental redistribution of wealth and power in this country.”
Asner was an avid admirer of longtime Cuban dictator Fidel Castro:
- In 1994 Asner helped initiate the International Peace for Cuba Appeal, which opposed America’s economic embargo against Castro’s island nation.1
- Asner was a member of Actors and Artists United for the Freedom of the Cuban Five (AAUFCF), dedicated to winning the release of five convicted and incarcerated members of a brutal Castro spy ring.2
- Blaming America for its strained relations with Communist Cuba, Asner once [said] in a television interview: “When Castro first took over, we all celebrated enormously. Cuba … had finally found its freedom…. [But] the United States could not tolerate … a little Hispanic country 90 miles off the United States declaring its independence of the United States, so immediately embargoes, everything began to take place, forcing him into the sphere of Soviet influence.”
- When Asner was told in May 2003 that Castro had “denied” Cubans “free elections for 40 years,” the actor replied: “We [Americans] didn’t have a free election [either] in 2002.” (He likely meant to say 2000, the year of the Florida recount crisis.)
A longtime opponent of capital punishment, Asner was once a member of the “International Committee to Free Geronimo Pratt,” the former Black Panther who was serving a prison sentence for murder. In October 2000 Asner testified as a character witness for cop-killer Kenneth Gay, stating that because Gay had once written a “wonderfully encouraging” play about children—a play that “highly impressed” Asner—a prison sentence would be more appropriate than execution. And over the years, Asner made many public appearances to protest the death sentence that had been issued against convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal.3
In the post-9/11 era, Asner advocated for the 9-11 Visibility Project, which promoted the idea that the U.S. government knew in advance that the infamous al-Qaeda terrorist attacks were coming, yet did nothing to stop them. Similarly:
- In October 2004 Asner signed a statement circulated by 911Truth.org suggesting that “people within the current [Bush] administration may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war.”
- In 2011 Asner hosted and narrated a documentary by Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth, which concludes that the collapse of 7 World Trade Center (on 9/11) was the result of a controlled demolition rather than collateral damage from the destruction of the Twin Towers.
- In June 2012 Asner attended the premiere of 9/11: Explosive Evidence — Experts Speak Out, a film by Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth (AE911Truth), at the Beverly Hills Music Hall Theatre in Los Angeles. At the press conference promoting the event, the actor said that “we have been in a long and slow trajectory of government creation of crises,” and then cited the Spanish-American War, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, and the Iraq War as conflicts that were based on falsehoods. Asner also asserted that the corporate media could not be trusted to report honestly on such controversial matters: “I know that no matter how many journalists may be out there who want to write that story… that they’ll always have that editor, a whole panoply of editors, and their publisher, and the advertisers, and the whole vigilante crowd waiting to devour them,and they’ll never write another story again.”
In 2002 Asner was a signatory to the highly publicized Not In Our Name “Statement of Conscience,” initiated by Revolutionary Communist Party leader C. Clark Kissinger. This document condemned not only the Bush administration’s “stark new measures of repression,” but also its “unjust, immoral, illegitimate, [and] openly imperial policy towards the world.” For a list of additional signers, click here.
A harsh critic of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, Asner in December 2002—three months prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq—charged that Bush officials “have keyed and geared the war machine … [to the point] that they’ve got to unload it someplace. Iraq is the likeliest place.”
In a 2002 television appearance, actor Ron Silver challenged Asner’s assertion that the United Nations was the only authority that could legitimately stand in judgment of the world’s various governments. When Silver stated that the UN was not the “imprimatur of morality,” Anser responded: “Nor are we [Americans]. Nor are we.”
In April 2004 Asner wrote a letter “to the Peace and Justice Movement” stating that “9-11 has been used to justify” such things as “endless war,” “a continual rollback in civil liberties that seems to have no end in sight,” and the rise of “an imperialist government.” “I also think,” Asner added, “that there is a strong streak of racism whenever we engage in foreign adventures. Our whole history in regime change has been of people of different color.”
During the Egyptian revolution of 2011, in which longtime president (and U.S. ally) Hosni Mubarak was toppled—setting the stage for the Muslim Brotherhood‘s rise to power in that country—Asner commented: “What is known is that [Mubarak] has generally been regarded as a dictator for a lot of years. The whole American policy of fostering and furthering dictators has to be questioned.”
When asked in 2011 what he thought of the conservative Tea Party movement, Asner replied: “Not much. I haven’t the foggiest idea what they stand for, and the more you watch President Obama, I don’t see what they have to complain about…. The Tea Party uprisings are based on ghost images such as [excessive] taxation…. We’re less taxed than almost any other Western country.”
On June 19, 2013—the 60th anniversary of the executions of atomic spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg—Asner and fellow actor/anti-death penalty activist Mike Farrell marked the occasion by co-sponsoring a screening of the film Daniel at the Communist Party’s Los Angeles Workers’ Center. A fictionalized account of the Rosenberg case, this 1983 Sidney Lumet movie focuses on the hardships allegedly endured by the children of persecuted Communist activists. Addressing those who attended the film screening, Asner drew parallels to Stalin‘s infamous show trials and suggested that the Rosenberg prosecution was tainted by anti-Semitism. Further, Asner made reference to his own vocal opposition, as president of the Screen Actors’ Guild, to the Reagan administration’s anti-Communist policies in Central America during the 1980s.
In a December 2017 interview with the Daily Beast, Asner said: “If right-wingers truly understood what the Constitution meant they wouldn’t use it as a crutch every time they screw over the poor and the disenfranchised…. The NRA is the worst offender. The Republican Party basically uses it to advance their own agenda, often at the expense of their own members.” At one point, the interviewer asked, “Do you believe [President] Trump is an anti-Semite?” Asner replied: “No. He might be, but how can he be, because he counts on the Jews to lead Wall Street?”
In December 2018, Asner used his Twitter account to share a National Geographic report about a poacher who recently had been devoured by lions at a South African game preserve. The actor added the caption, “Has anyone seen Eric Trump or Donald Trump Jr. lately?” — implying that perhaps one of them was the victim of that mauling.
Asner has served on the advisory board of the Rosenberg Fund for Children since at least 2003. In 2009 he was a member of the of the Independent Progressive Politics Network‘s advisory committee. In 2010 he was listed as an endorser of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, an antiwar organization with socialist roots. He spent time as an executive board member of the Office of the Americas. And as of 2014 he was on the advisory board of the Harry Bridges Project, which was named in honor of the late Bay Area labor leader and secret member of the Communist Party USA‘s Central Committee.
For additional information on Ed Asner, click here.
1 Other prominent initiators and endorsers of the NION Statement included Philip Agee, Harry Belafonte, Noam Chomsky, Ramsey Clark, John Conyers, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Falk, Thomas Gumbleton, Woody Harrelson, Corliss Lamont, Mario Obledo, Charles Rangel, Pete Seeger, Martin Sheen, Paul Sweezy, Alice Walker, Lucius Walker Jr., Maxine Waters, Quentin Young, and Howard Zinn.
3 Asner once complained to Philadelphia Magazine that there were no African Americans on the jury that convicted Mumia, but in fact there were two. And in December 1998 Asner claimed that police had performed no ballistics tests in their investigation, but this, too, was false.