As a freshman at Columbia University in 1970, future Attorney General Eric Holder participated in a five-day occupation of an abandoned Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) headquarters with a group of black students later described by the university’s Black Students’ Organization as “armed,” The Daily Caller has learned.
Department of Justice spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler has not responded to questions from The Daily Caller about whether Holder himself was armed — and if so, with what sort of weapon.
Holder was then among the leaders of the Student Afro-American Society (SAAS), which demanded that the former ROTC office be renamed the “Malcolm X Lounge.” The change, the group insisted, was to be made “in honor of a man who recognized the importance of territory as a basis for nationhood.”
Black radicals from the same group also occupied the office of Dean of Freshman Henry Coleman until their demands were met. Holder has publicly acknowledged being a part of that action.
The details of the student-led occupation, including the claim that the raiders were “armed,” come from a deleted Web page of the Black Students’ Organization (BSO) at Columbia, a successor group to the SAAS. Contemporary newspaper accounts in The Columbia Daily Spectator, a student newspaper, did not mention weapons.
Holder, now the United States’ highest-ranking law enforcement official, has given conflicting accounts of this episode during college commencement addresses at Columbia, but both the BSO’s website and the Daily Spectator have published facts that conflict with his version of events.
Holder has bragged about his involvement in the “rise of black consciousness” protests at Columbia.
“I was among a large group of students who felt strongly about the way we thought the world should be, and we weren’t afraid to make our opinions heard,” he said during Columbia’s 2009 commencement exercises. “I did not take a final exam until my junior year at Columbia — we were on strike every time finals seemed to roll around — but we ran out of issues by that third year.”
Though then-Dean Carl Hovde declared the occupation of the Naval ROTC office illegal and said it violated university policy, the college declined to prosecute any of the students involved. This decision may have been made to avoid a repeat of violent Columbia campus confrontations between police and members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1968.
The ROTC headquarters was ultimately renamed the Malcolm X lounge as the SAAS organization demanded. It later became a hang-out spot for another future U.S. leader, Barack Obama, according to David Maraniss’ best-selling “Barack Obama: The Story.”
Holder told Columbia University’s graduating law students during a 2010 commencement speech that the 1970 incident happened “during my senior year,” but Holder was a freshman at the time. “[S]everal of us took one of our concerns — that black students needed a designated space to gather on campus — to the Dean [of Freshmen]’office. This being Columbia, we proceeded to occupy that office.”
Holder also claimed in his 2009 speech that he and his fellow students decided to “peacefully occupy one of the campus offices.” In contrast, the BSO’s website recounted its predecessor organization’s activities by noting that that “in 1970, a group of armed black students [the SAAS] seized the abandoned ROTC office.”
While that website is no longer online, a snapshot of its content from September 2010 is part of the archive.org database.
In a December 2010 GQ magazine profile of Holder, one of his Columbia friends confirmed that he and Holder were both part of the ROTC office takeover.
Holder particularly “connected with four other African-American students” at Columbia, correspondent Wil S. Hylton wrote. “We took over the ROTC lounge in Hartley Hall and created the Malcolm X Lounge,” said a laughing Steve Sims, one of those students.
Hylton described Sims as “the attorney general’s closest friend” and “a man Holder describes as his ‘consigliere.'”