High School Yearbook profiles try to put graduates in the best light. But in William Barr’s profile it was a case of damning with faint praise.
“Inside and outside of School, Bill’s activities were both varied and interesting. A staunch conservative on political issues, Bill often worked for the Republican Party. As a member of the Political Science Club at School, he could often be heard in vociferous debate. … Bill’s witty humor was also notable. An incomparable master of facial contortions, Bill had a lighter side which endeared him to his classmates.”
Well, not exactly. His profile was just as much a whitewash as his summation of the Mueller report.
Barr went to the private Horace Mann School (then an all-boys school) in The Bronx (Class of ‘67). I was one year behind him. His three brothers also attended the school. One of his older brothers was active in Students for Goldwater in ‘64. The Barr brothers also protested against donating proceeds from the Junior Carnival fundraiser to the NAACP.
I did not become politically engaged until after I graduated from Horace Mann and got caught up in the 1968 Democratic Convention protests that coincided with starting my freshman year at the University of Chicago.
So I did not have much interaction with Barr even though we lived just two blocks apart near the Columbia University campus.
But Billy Barr was a known bully. Back in 1991, when Barr was nominated by President George H.W. Bush to be attorney general, Jimmy Lohman (Class of ‘69) , a lawyer and musician, wrote a piece for the Florida Flambeau newspaper which covered Florida State University.
Lohman described Barr as “a sick and sadistic child” who has “come a long way from terrorizing seventh graders just because they wore racial equality buttons.”
“Billy was my very own high school tormentor. He was a classic bully. I met Billy when I was in seventh grade. Billy was a porky ninth grader who had a vicious fixation on my little Jewish "commie" ass. Billy and another ugly mean porker friend of his lived to make me miserable. Combined, they weighed a good three times what I weighed and they put the crunch on me every chance they got. ...
“There was something about that used to set Barr and his hideous sidekick off. I know the peace and civil rights buttons I wore drove these guys whacko. It was from 1963 to 1967 that I dodged these creeps: years of major polarization in this country.”
Billy Barr was the most conservative of the Barr brothers. He caused his speech teacher, Tek Y. Lin, a Buddhist, to wince when he advocated the nuclear bombing of China.
I was a member of the cross country track team. Our captain was Garrick Beck, who was the polar opposite of Billy Barr in every way. His parents were Julian Beck and Judith Malina, founders of the experimental Living Theatre. They were hounded by the IRS on phony tax evasion charges that forced them to close their theater for several years and move to Paris.
Beck was interviewed by Vanity Fair for a story on William Barr’s background. He recalled their arguments about the Vietnam War and the spread of communism.
Barr was a staunch believer in the domino theory — that if South Vietnam fell, other countries in Southeast Asia would fall and communism would spread even to Hawaii, Beck said.
“He would say things like, ‘If you guys get your way, we will be living under the Communist flag in no time flat.”
Beck also recalled that even then Barr believed that the president had expanded authority and argued that all the president needs to declare war is an executive order rather than a declaration from Congress.
Barr was a favorite of our Modern European History teacher — Alfred Briggs, who espoused anti-Communist views akin to those of the far-right John Birch Society. He had us read “Two Ways of Life: The Communist Challenge to Democracy” by William Ebenstein, with Thomas Jefferson and Vladimir Lenin on the cover.
Briggs was also known to say “We need more Roy Cohns in the world.” Briggs actually did teach Cohn, the lawyer who was an aide to Sen. Joseph McCarthy and mentor to Donald Trump. Cohn was a member of the HM Class of ‘44. Trump once asked, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” and he tabbed Barr to be his AG.
Even back then Barr was full of hot air. While we were listening to psychedelic rock, Barr was wearing kilts and learning to play the bagpipes.
“He started playing as a young kid, in New York. I’ve seen pictures of him, ten years old, wearing a Balmoral bonnet, a kilt, a doublet, big bagpipes on his shoulder,” said Mike Green, who played with Barr in the City of Washington Pipe Band. (William Barr’s Secret Passion: The Bagpipes)
Of course the school has many distinguished alumni quite unlike Barr and Cohn: Robert Caro, Elliott Carter, Tom Lehrer, Anthony Lewis, Allard K. Lowenstein and Renee Richards, among others.
In June, two members of the HM Class of 2020, Jessica Rosberger and Kiara Royer, started a petition drive on change.org asking the school’s Alumni Council to reconsider its 2011 decision to present Barr its Distinguished Alumni Award.
They launched the petition after Barr ordered law enforcement on June 2 to forcibly clear a crowd of peaceful protesters outside the White House, exercising their First Amendment rights, so Trump could walk to St. John’s Church for a photo opportunity. The petition called Barr’s action “a callous and despicable act demonstrating a clear disregard for our democratic values of free speech and racial justice.”
The petition said Barr violated HM”s Core Values of Mutual Respect and Mature Behavior and “should not be held as a model member of our community because of his disgraceful actions.”
Almost 9,000 people signed the petition, including many current students, faculty members and alumni, have signed the petition.
But the school’s Alumni Council has yet to come to a decision. The council formed a subcommittee to consider the issue that held a Zoom meeting with the petition’s sponsors in July. But last month, the petition’s organizers said the Alumni Council ”has made little effort to seriously reconsider” their award to Barr and “have been conspicuously slow walking” their response.
They added that if the Alumni Council continued to remain silent the Horace Mann community should encourage past recipients to return their rewards and future nominees to refuse to accept the award.