Mysterious organizations in the Bay Area profess to be advocating for liberal causes. In truth, they appear to be part of a secretive group with a bizarre radical past.
As with any San Francisco dogfight, myriad organizations have piled on to the civic battle to pressure Sutter Health to rebuild St. Luke’s Hospital at César Chávez and Valencia streets.
There’s the California Nurses Association (CNA), the union pushing to compel Sutter Health to preserve St. Luke’s organized labor jobs. There are neighborhood groups fighting to pressure Sutter Health to build its new hospital in a way that won’t snarl traffic. And then there’s the Physicians Organizing Committee, a self-described group of doctors and medical professionals that seems to be one of the more aggressive on the CNA side of the dispute, with representatives speaking to students at local universities, canvassing merchants, and proposing alliances with nonprofits such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Why the seeming secrecy? Knowledgeable sources say that the Physicians Organizing Committee is one of several Bay Area front groups set up to disguise a strange political cult. Although a representative for the committee has denied the link, it has shared personnel with an alleged cult front group, and received a grant from the National Equal Justice Association (NEJA), a nonprofit shell corporation linked to the cult. (The committee’s manager, meanwhile, has donated money to NEJA.) Committee representatives also deal with the press using a protocol consistent with rules laid down by the cult.
The cult, an umbrella organization based in New York, goes by names such as the Provisional Communist Party and the National Labor Federation, abbreviated as NatlFed. Historically, the stated goal of NatlFed is one that would likely even discomfit the Bay Area liberals the organization targets for recruiting: the violent overthrow of the U.S. government.
NatlFed doesn’t fit most people’s idea of a cult. There’s no religious dogma. Instead, it’s best known for preaching leftist revolution. Yet, during its 40 years of existence, it doesn’t seem to have performed a single terrorist act. Decade after decade, its members have merely gone about preparing themselves for the possibility of an eventual day of insurrection — like Pentecostals awaiting the rapture.
In the meantime, the group has undertaken charitable works that Palo Alto’s Jeff Whitnack, who volunteered for the group in the 1980s until he became disillusioned, refers to as “flypaper” designed to lure young idealists.
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These groups, which the FBI has linked to NatlFed, have names that make them sound like labor unions or professional associations, among them the Coalition of Concerned Medical Professionals, the Coalition of Concerned Legal Professionals, the California Homemakers Association, and the Western Farm Workers Association.