By Rita Nissan
NY1 News, November 1, 2005
On Monday, NY1 introduced you to the Independence Party’s Fred Newman, a major player in city politics. In part two of her special series, “Psychopolitics,” NY1’s Rita Nissan takes a look at Newman’s colorful past.
Fred Newman may be the most powerful political leader you never heard of. His followers
have been dubbed “Newmanites” and they liken him to Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
“I met Dr. Newman 30 years ago. One of the things we did, not just the therapy, [but] one of the things I recognized was that I knew he had a vision for the African-American community and he could help us do something besides feel sorry for ourselves,” says Lorraine Stevens, a Newman supporter.
Critics call him to a cult leader.
“He is the man, the guru,” says Nanette Harris, a former Social Therapy patient. “Everybody aspires to be like Fred or to have Fred’s approval. It’s ridiculous.”
Born and raised in the South Bronx, Fred Newman received a Ph.D. in philosophy from Stanford in 1963. But psychology and politics became his passion.
In the early 70’s Newman developed a small group of followers, and they lived in a communal apartment on the Upper West Side. Members took part in the group therapy Newman created, Social Therapy. They also did political work. Newman called it, “A Marxist-Leninist-Maoist organization.”
“I now often refer myself to a post-modern Marxist because I think Marx is very antiquated,” says Newman.
His group morphed into the International Workers Party, the IWP. Former members say the IWP did, and still does, serve as the backbone of Newman’s causes.
They say members live together and are expected to quit their jobs, turn over their assets to Newman and raise money for him on the street, while undergoing his therapy.
By the late ’70s, former members say the IWP went underground and Newman started operating several front groups, including the New Alliance Party. Critics called the party a fringe group, with shady politics, operated by a cult-like core.
“It slowly dawned on me that I had been part of a cult,” says M. Ortiz, who was a loyal follower from 1985 to 1990.
Ortiz says she went to Social Therapy to treat her anxiety and depression. “Therapy at the institute isn’t just therapy,” she says.
Ortiz says she was recruited to work for the New Alliance Party during her weekly sessions. She was told society was to blame for her emotional problems and her recovery would be helped by doing political work for Newman.
Not long into her involvement, Ortiz says she was invited to join the IWP, which also became known as the “inner core” and the “tendency.”
“I found myself a member of an underground, Leninist, Marxist tendency whose ambition was to overthrow [or] take over the U.S. government through fair elections and third party elections,” she says.
To join, Ortiz says she filled out a form stating her income and assets, and that she had to turn those assets over to the IWP. She says she had to contribute money to fund Newman’s various causes, including the 1988 presidential campaign of his protege, Lenora Fulani.
Ortiz says she and her fellow comrades also had to attend secret meetings at different places in the city, to avoid being spotted by the FBI. In 1988, the FBI called members of the New Alliance Party “armed and dangerous.”
“As Marxist-Leninist cadre, we would have secret bi-weekly meetings with a cell leader in small groups of between four and six people,” says Ortiz. “We were given orders to read, information like, ÎSo and so has joined the tendency, so and so has left the tendency.’ We would also give at those meetings bi-weekly dues, which ranged anywhere from 10-50 percent of your income.”
Ortiz says she devoted her life to the organization. She says she even agreed to live with other so-called cadres. Ortiz says they took turns caring for each other’s children so they could devote more time to the revolution.
But slowly, she says she realized she was in a cult. Ortiz says the final straw came when she was told to give up her daughter.
“It was strongly suggested that I consider putting my daughter up for foster care because she was, “getting in the way of my work as a revolutionary.’ And that was it,” she says.
After five years of what she describes as slave labor, and thousands of dollars in debt, Ortiz said goodbye to Fred Newman in 1990.
Now, at age 70, Newman is frail and is said to be suffering from diabetes. He dismisses the claim that he leads a cult.
“I don’t think there are such things as cults,” he says. “I think there are human beings who decide to come together in various ways and sometimes the ways in which they come together turn out to be pretty destructive — witness Jonestown – and sometimes they come together in ways that are relatively innocuous, and sometimes they come together in ways that turn out to be quite positive.”
Newman says he’s a positive force. “Our therapeutic work has brought more families together than any kind of therapy that I know of,” he says.
Ortiz has gone to great lengths to document her story. She launched a website, www.exiwp.org, that’s become a sanctuary for former IWP members.
“I want to give people the chance to find out as much about them, their entire history,” she says. “They have a tendency to hide information, to deny information, to shred information, and to just lie. I don’t want to give them that chance anymore.”
Ortiz says she’s outraged that 15 years since she parted ways, Newman is still practicing Social Therapy and his political power has grown.
Newman now runs the Independence Party in Manhattan and largely controls the other four boroughs. He also has considerable influence over the state party.
His followers dominate some upstate counties. That has given Newman and his allies access to politicians like Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor George Pataki, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Senator Charles Schumer. They have all sought the Independence Party’s endorsement.
– Rita Nissan