Robert Meeropol

Robert Meeropol

: Photo from Wikimedia Commons / Author of Photo: Joe Mabel


* Son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, the convicted Soviet spies
* Communist supporter
* Considered Cuban dictator Fidel Castro his boyhood idol
* Supports convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal
* Founder and Executive Director of the Rosenberg Fund for Children

Born in 1947 (in New York City) as Robert Rosenberg, Robert Meeropol is the younger of the two biological sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Communist Party members who in 1945 passed secret information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union, and in 1953 were executed for conspiracy to commit espionage against the United States. After Robert’s parents were arrested and incarcerated (at New York’s Sing Sing Prison) in the summer of 1950, the boy and his older brother, Michael, lived for three months with their maternal grandmother, Tessie Greenglass, who then sent the pair to live at Hebrew Children’s Home in the Bronx. Several months later, their paternal grandmother, Sophie Rosenberg, took the boys into her custody for about a year. She then sent them to New Jersey to live with the Bach family, friends of the Rosenbergs. Eventually the boys were adopted by writer/songwriter Abel Meeropol and his wife, Anne, both of whom were die-hard Stalinists who – unlike most American Communists – were unaffected by the 1956 revelations of the late Joseph Stalin‘s monstrous crimes. Upon their adoption, Robert and Michael took the Meeropol surname. Robert, for his part, never revealed who his biological parents were, even to his closest friends, until his early twenties.

By his own account, Robert Meeropol “had never felt so isolated” as he did during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when America teetered on the brink of nuclear war. His feelings of isolation were due to the fact that he identified with Communist Russia, rather than with his own country under attack. Indeed, he had already soaked up most of the Communist creed and was devoted to his boyhood idol, the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro: “In Fidel I found my contemporary hero.”

In the 1960s and 1970s, Meeropol became active in the anti-Vietnam War movement. Moreover, he and his brother sued the FBI and CIA under the Freedom of Information Act, winning the release of 300,000 previously secret documents which Robert cited as evidence that his parents had been wrongly convicted of espionage. In 1975, Robert and Michael co-wrote a book proclaiming their parents’ innocence, titled We Are Your Sons: The Legacy of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Emerging for the first time as public figures, the brothers threw their energies – as organizers, fundraisers and spokesmen – into the National Committee to Re-Open the Rosenberg Case. This effort and its offshoots remained – by Robert’s own account – the principal focus of both their lives for decades thereafter.

When certain international events of the Sixties and Seventies – e.g., the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the Communist genocide in Cambodia – shattered the coalitions of the Communist left, Robert Meeropol’s political faith never wavered. In the 1980s he and his wife became organizers for a chapter of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) – an organization that Cuban intelligence operatives set up in the United States in order to aid the Communist guerrillas in Central America.

From 1980 to 1982, Meeropol was the managing editor of the Socialist Review, a publication based in San Francisco.

Meeropol’s life as a young man in the 1970s and 1980s was brought to light in his 2004 memoir, An Execution in the Family: One Son’s Journey. In this book, Meeropol accepted the possibility that his father had indeed been involved in spying for the Soviet Union during World War II. He whitewashed Julius’ transgression, however, by noting that the USSR at that time was an ally of the United States. He wrote, with considerable anger:

“The central lesson of this episode is that our government abused its power in dangerous ways that remain relevant today. Those in power targeted our parents, making them the focus of the public’s Cold War-era fear and anger. They manufactured testimony and evidence. They arrested our mother simply as leverage to get our father to cooperate. They used the ultimate weapon — the threat of death — to try to extort a confession. They created the myth that there was a key secret of the atomic bomb, and then devised a strategy to make it appear that our father had sought and passed on that secret. They executed our father when he refused to collaborate in this lie. They executed our mother as well, even though they knew that she was not an active participant in any espionage activities.”

In the memoir as well, Robert Meeropol emerged as a sensitive and self-conscious individual who, for many years, had been concerned to preserve his anonymity. As a young parent, he was preoccupied with family — in particular with providing his young children the stability and shelter that was so traumatically lacking in his own. He wrote disarmingly of his insecurities, his lack of physical and moral courage, and his inability to find himself or to establish an adult life. He and his wife lived for an exceptionally long time as college students, both literally – extending their schooling into their thirties, teaching courses half-heartedly while working on the Rosenberg case – and metaphorically, finding jobs that were in one way or another related to their progressive political community and its agitational causes. When Robert finally obtained a law-school degree, he admitted to feeling “a bit concerned that at thirty-seven I was still trying to figure out what I was going to do when I grew up.”

At first the answer appeared to be “estate planning.” But when Meeropol could not find a “leftwing estate-planning firm,” he found himself doing business law instead. He graduated from the Western New England College School of Law in 1985 and was subsequently admitted to the Massachusetts Bar. When his apprenticeship was complete, and the firm gave him adult responsibilities, they proved too much for his fragile psychology. The pressures of making decisions and “closing deals” soon overwhelmed Meeropol and he suffered a nervous breakdown. Surviving on doses of Xanax in the daytime and Halycon at night, he eventually decided to leave the law firm.

In 1990, Meeropol created the Rosenberg Fund for Children, a self-described support group for the children of “political prisoners,” where Meeropol continues to serve on the Board of Directors. Explaining how he had come to create the Fund, Meeropol wrote in his memoir: “I was startled to learn how many children today were vulnerable to the same kind of nightmares I endured after my parents’ arrest. I learned that our country held over more than one hundred political prisoners (Black Panthers, American Indian Movement members, Puerto Rican Nationalists, and white revolutionaries like the Ohio Seven).” He described the Fund’s purpose as follows: “The Rosenberg Fund for Children is a public foundation that provides for the educational and emotional needs of children in this country whose parents have been targeted in the course of their progressive activities. What that actually means is that we find people today in this country who are suffering the same kind of attacks that my parents suffered and if they have children we provide the kind of assistance that my brother and I were provided with. We connect them with progressive institutions so the kids can be raised in a supportive environment.”

In his 2004 memoir, Meeropol revealed that his original crusade to prove his parents’ innocence had evolved, over the years, into something quite different: “I used to hope that when we finally got to the bottom of what really happened in my parents’ case, the facts would show their unequivocal innocence. I no longer feel that way. Now I’d rather my parents had been conscious political actors than innocent victims.”

In short, Meeropol wished that his parents had in fact committed the crime with which they were charged — because it was a “crime” only in the eyes of their persecutors; because the goal in whose service they committed it – the socialist future – was just. Meeropol, then, was no longer a defender of his parents’ legal innocence, but of their Communist cause.

This mindset was on display when Meeropol and his brother, appearing on stage as featured “performers” at the 50th anniversary “celebration” of their parents’ 1953 executions, included in the festivities the son of Mumia Abu Jamal, the Panther radical convicted of having murdered Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in cold blood. Finding a parallel between his own parents’ trial and martyrdom, and Mumia Abu Jamal’s incarceration, Robert Meeropol explained his support for Mumia, thusly: “Like my parents before him, Mumia was not the typical death-row inmate, because regardless of what he had done, his most dangerous crime was his articulate resistance to the dominant forces of our society.” [emphasis added]

In other words, it did not really matter whether Mumia Abu Jamal murdered Officer Faulkner, any more than it mattered whether Julius and Ethel Rosenberg actually stole the plans for American jet fighters or the trigger of the atomic bomb, as they were accused of having done. To Meeropol – who once acknowledged that he could in fact conceive of the possibility that his parents indeed had been guilty of atomic spying for the Soviet Union – all that mattered was their noble “resistance” to the government of the United States and its ruling class. This resistance made them “progressives,” and worthy of the cause, and above morality and the law.

Meeropol retired as the executive director of the Rosenberg Fund for Children in 2013.

In December 2016, Meeropol called for President Obama to exonerate his deceased mother for her treason with the Soviet Union, referring to her early 1950s trial as a “perversion of justice.” In an interview with Democracy Now!, Meeropol acknowledged that he was seeking Obama’s help before the latter’s term concluded because incoming President Trump was certainly not going to intervene on his family’s behalf. Characterizing his mother’s alleged mistreatment as an example of “the way the judiciary is used in authoritarian societies,” Meeropol warned that “the courts can be used as devastating instruments of repression, as they were during the McCarthy period.”

As part of their effort to persuade Obama and his inner circle to intervene on their mother’s behalf, Robert and Michael Meeropol drated and circulated a petition titled “Petitioning Attorney General Lynch and President Obama: Exonerate our Mother, Ethel Rosenberg.” The signature-gathering campaign garnered some 60,000 names before it formally ended on January 20, 2017. Some key excerpts from the petition:

“Our parents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, were executed on June 19, 1953 during the anti-communist hysteria of the Cold War Era. They had been convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage, in what was called ‘the crime of the century.’ We were six and 10 years old when they were killed.

“Our mother was not a spy, and her execution was wrongful. Her conviction was based on perjured testimony and prosecutorial and judicial misconduct. The charges against our mother and the threat of the death penalty were meant to intimidate her and our father into cooperating. The U.S. government wanted Julius to falsely confess to passing ‘the secret of the atomic bomb’ to the Soviet Union, and name others involved.

“Their trial took place during a time of widespread panic about communism. The sentencing judge went so far as to blame our parents for the Korean War. In denying clemency, President Eisenhower accused them of causing future nuclear wars. These outrageous statements and our parents’ execution helped fuel a dangerous climate of fear and intolerance in our country which permitted political opportunists like Senator Joseph McCarthy to poison our society. Today, we face a similar climate of hatred which targets immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQI individuals and others.

“A formal acknowledgement of the wrong done to our mother and our family will help prevent similar injustices in the future…. Please, join us in calling on Attorney General [Loretta] Lynch and President Obama to formally exonerate Ethel Rosenberg before they leave office. More than 60 years after her unjust conviction and execution, now is the time to clear her good name.”

Among the notable individuals who signed the Meeropol brothers’ petition were Michael Moore, Eve Ensler, Noam Chomsky, and Michael Dukakis.

In February 2017, Robert Meeropol wrote that he and a friend were “working to make our town [Northampton, Massachusetts] a sanctuary city [for illegal aliens] and taking other actions to resist the Trumpist onslaught.” He continued, “I am so impressed with the masses of energized younger people (for me that means those under 50) who are willing to put their bodies on the gears to disrupt whatever evil policies the Trumpists seek to shove down our throats.” Moreover, Meeropol exhorted Americans to dramatically scale back their purchases of goods and services, because such a course of action would “hurt the economy” and thereby make Trump’s presidency appear to be unsuccessful:

“The millions of us can be disruptive of the Trump agenda simply by participating in a organized effort to sharply curtail our purchases. Sounds like a contradiction in terms, but let’s put our collective money where our collective mouthes [sic] are by not spending. Canceling big ticket items is most important. Put off buying a new car. Don’t take that pleasure trip — stay home, better for the environment anyway. Delay major home improvements. Forget about that new 99inch smart TV. It will hurt the economy, but it will help to get rid of Trump.

“Do that and participate in ‘no commerce’ as part of the February 17th Strike. Buy nothing that day, and ‘Join with other like-minded folks and occupy public space with positive messages of resistance and solidarity.’ If millions of us participated in organized ‘non-consumption’ days, days during which we stayed home, hung out with family and friends, took hikes, played board games, and built community, we could send corporate America a message they’d feel in their pocket book. And if we can pull off one day like that, then we’ll go for another and a third…. Think of it this way — every unnecessary dollar we spend helps Trump. Stop spending to hit this fucked-up administration where it hurts.”

In late October 2020, Meeropol wrote an article stating that if President Trump were lose his upcoming re-election bid but refuse to accept his defeat, Americans should respond by launching a widespread consumer boycott:

“Our job as citizens right now is to do everything possible to turn out the vote, so the outcome isn’t close enough for Trump to contest. But what if he announces that he won’t accept a defeat no matter how overwhelming? What if he initiates a coup? How should we react if he loses the election, but refuses to leave?

“There has been talk of massive civil disobedience, and I expect many resolute constitutional patriots will take to the streets. But given that up to 26 million joined demonstrations after George Floyd’s murder and nothing has changed on the national level since May, such actions may be necessary, but will they be sufficient?

“The Democrats are planning court challenges, but given the results of Bush vs. Gore, and given that the courts are packed with Trump appointees, that’s probably not enough, either….

“Consumers are the driving force of our economy, and a lot of what we buy is not critically important. A mass consumer boycott of all but the bare necessities could send a strong message. We could refuse to use our credit cards except when we absolutely must and then not pay our credit card bills. As banks’ losses mount, they will clamor for Trump’s departure. This is a way for millions of people, including those of us with COVID-19 targets on our backs, to do our part without risking crowds of potential disease spreaders, police brutality and armed Trump vigilantes….

“This may seem like a daunting organizing task, but we’ve seen in other nations that, with the help of the internet, mass movements quickly can render entire nations ungovernable…. If we act collectively — even if some of us are staying home — buying nothing and refusing to pay our bills, we could become an unstoppable force. The people have the power to force an illegitimate government to leave.”

In a January 4, 2021 opinion piece, Meeropol urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President-elect Joe Biden to “hold the Republican Party accountable for its decades of obstructionism and authoritarianism.” “Whatever actions Biden and Pelosi take,” he wrote, “it is time to go on offense. We face a pandemic, mass unemployment, exploding homelessness and hunger, endemic racism and violence, and an attempt to unravel our system of government.”

After Joe Biden was inaugurated as president in January 2021, Meeropol once again expressed optimism that his mother might be exonerated of her 1953 conviction for treason. “It is not enough that they pardon her,” said Meeropol. “You forgive a person who is guilty, but she wasn’t. We want to clear her name.”

Some portions of this profile are adapted from “Guilt of the Son,” written by David Horowitz and published by on June 23, 2003.

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