Born in the District of Columbia on July 7, 1951, Norman Solomon grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland. As a teenager he became a political activist with the radical Montgomery County Student Alliance (MCSA), which once published a report depicting the local school system as a rigid, authoritarian institution that stifled free inquiry and discussion. Solomon’s affiliation with MCSA caused the FBI to begin monitoring him in 1966. Moreover, the Bureau shared information about MCSA with the Secret Service and military intelligence agencies.
After briefly attending Reed College, Solomon in the 1970s lived in Portland, Oregon and became an activist against nuclear power and nuclear weapons. In the late ’70s he spent several weeks in jail, for repeatedly engaging in protests demanding the closure of the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant. Solomon also served as chief researcher for the Committee for Veterans of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which reported that U.S. Army veterans who had served in Japan after America’s detonation of two atomic bombs in 1945, now suffered from inordinately high incidences of blood disorders and cancers.
In November 1981, Solomon and journalist Duncan Campbell co-authored an article in the British socialist magazine New Statesman, inaccurately claiming that a recent U.S. Navy missile accident at a Scottish naval base had nearly caused a mushroom cloud and radioactive disaster in Great Britain.
In 1982 Solomon and fellow left-activist Harvey Wasserman co-authored the book Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experience with Radiation, which offered a negative view of the effects of radiation from nuclear tests, weapons manufacture, nuclear waste storage, and atomic reactors.
In September 1984, a District Court judge sentenced Solomon to ten days in jail for his participation in a protest where approximately 30 activists obstructed a railroad track in Vancouver, Washington, so as to block a train carrying U.S. Energy Department cargo from a weapons manufacturing facility in Texas to the U.S. Navy Trident submarine base in Bangor, Washington. Solomon at the time was the “disarmament director” for the interfaith group, Fellowship of Reconciliation.
In the 1980s Solomon made eight trips to Moscow, traveling with press credentials as a reporter working for the Pacific News Service and Pacifica Radio. But in the Russian capital, he behaved more as an anti-American propagandist and political protester than as a journalist. In February 1986, for instance, Solomon and U.S. military veteran Anthony Guarisco staged a sit-in at the American Embassy in Moscow, demanding that the United States join the Soviet Union in a nuclear test ban. Also during their time in Russia, Solomon and Guarisco lent rhetorical support to two Soviet government-run front groups urging American disarmament – the Soviet Peace Committee and the Soviet Veterans’ Committee. They also met with the nominally “independent” Committee to Establish Trust Between the USSR and the USA.
In 1988 Solomon moved back to the Washington, DC area, where he served as a spokesman for Anthony Guarisco’s anti-military, anti-nuclear organization, the Alliance of Atomic Veterans.
In the 1990s Solomon relocated from DC to San Francisco, though he continued his association with Jeff Cohen and FAIR. From 1992-97, Solomon and Cohen co-wrote a nationally syndicated newspaper column titled “Media Beat.” Solomon thereafter continued the column solo until 2009. And between 1995 and 2002, Solomon and Cohen authored three books together.
In 1994 Solomon was a founder of the National Radio Project, which was subsequently renamed the International Media Project. As part of this endeavor, Solomon and David Barsamian co-hosted a weekly syndicated radio news program called Making Contact. In the late 1990s Solomon shifted from being a regular co-host of this show, to being its “senior advisor.”
That same year, Solomon published The Trouble with Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets the Last Laugh. This book was an attack on the popular comic strip Dilbert, which, as the L.A. Times put it, “chronicles the frustrations of a nerdy employee in a nameless, absurdly run company.” Though the Dilbert cartoon purported to “mar[k] the supposed outer boundary of opposition to corporate machinery,” said Solomon, in fact it merely “teaches through example … that the best we can hope for is a cynical aside and an acid quip.”
Favoring a government-funded press, Solomon in the early 2000s asserted that private media ownership inevitably causes “big money” to block “the windpipe of the First Amendment.”
In September 2002, as a U.S. invasion of Iraq seemed increasingly inevitable, Solomon headed an IPA delegation to that country; he was accompanied by such notables as Democrat Congressman Nick Rahall and former Democrat Senator James Abourezk. Following the trip, Solomon, who condemned the United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq as American military spies, reported that his meetings with Iraqi officials had been suffused with “some real warmth,” a “shared desire to avert the looming specter of just a really horrific war,” and “moments that were really transcendent, in terms of human connectedness.” Adding that “the idea of pre-emptive strikes” by the United States was “insane,” he said “we all agreed on … the regime change demand of the Bush administration as being a major obstacle.”
In December 2002, Solomon and IPA sponsored a trip to Baghdad by actor and anti-war activist Sean Penn, in hopes that he could use his celebrity status to, as Solomon put it, “inspire many Americans from various walks of life to explore how they can impede the momentum toward war.” During the trip, Penn made numerous statements that had great propaganda value to Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
In the spring of 2004 – just over a year after the U.S. had invaded Iraq, Solomon said: “[T]here are ways that the U.S. government could legitimately reduce the negative coverage it gets on Al-Jazeera. For instance, if President Bush wants Al-Jazeera to stop airing grisly footage of dead Iraqi civilians, as commander in chief he could order U.S. troops to stop killing them.”
Though he was a longtime supporter of independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, Solomon in 2004 urged liberal and leftist voters to cast their ballots instead for Democratic nominee John Kerry – on the theory that Nader stood no chance of defeating George W. Bush in that year’s election, whereas Kerry had a good chance of winning. By Solomon’s telling, Nader had “become a de facto ally of the current emperor” (Bush) and was positioning himself to “hurt the Democratic Party in a big way” by siphoning votes away from Kerry.
Circa 2006, Solomon served as an adviser to the Media Democracy Legal Project, a National Lawyers Guild ally that sought to “attain democratic governance of our publicly owned airwaves in accordance with the democratic ideals of our U.S. Constitution.”
In early 2011, Solomon co-founded the online activist group RootsAction.org, which expressed dissatisfaction with both “a far-right Republican Party regime that is largely a subsidiary of corporate America, and a Democratic Party whose leadership is enmeshed with corporate power.”
In 2011-12, Solomon ran for a U.S. House of Representatives seat that was slated to open up as a result of the impending retirement of California Democrat Lynn Woolsey. His campaign priorities were to:
Solomon finished a distant third in the 2012 Democratic primary, garnering only 14.9% of the vote and thus failing to qualify for the general election.
In 2013 Solomon and his RootsAction organization launched a petition drive calling for a Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded to Bradley Manning (a.k.a. Chelsea Manning), a U.S. soldier who had been convicted of espionage for leaking some 750,000 sensitive and/or classified documents to WikiLeaks. “No individual has done more to push back against what Martin Luther King Jr. called ‘the madness of militarism’ than Bradley Manning,” the petition read.
In 2016 Solomon supported the presidential candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders and served as the head of the Bernie Delegates Network. When Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton eventually selected Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate, Solomon accused Clinton of showing “demonstrable contempt for the progressive wing” of the Democratic Party. More suitable choices, said Solomon, would have been Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, or Tom Perez.
Solomon formerly served on the advisory board of the Progressive Democrats of America. He also has been a supporter of the Bay Area New Priorities Campaign, whose mission is to pressure Congress into cutting expenditures on the military while increasing spending for social welfare programs.
Solomon has long been a harsh critic of Israel. In 2008 he described the Jewish state as “a mighty practitioner” of “moral imbecility,” whose “ongoing … war crime” against the Palestinian people was being carried out with “an accomplice named Uncle Sam” and was making many people around the world “ill with rage.” Similarly, in 2014 he accused Israel of perpetrating “the mass slaughter of [Palestinian] civilians.”
More than once, Solomon has approvingly quoted the late Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci‘s assertion that the proper temperament for a revolutionary is “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”
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