McCarthyism 2020: A Second Generation NLG Member and Red-Baiting in Texas

Mike Siegel is a civil rights lawyer, long-time National Lawyers Guild member, and candidate for the U.S. House from Austin, Texas.

He is also, according to his opponent Rep. Michael McCaul, “the most radical liberal running for Congress in America.”
After Siegel won the Democratic nomination for the Texas 10th Congressional District on July 14, 2020, McCaul unveiled a series of attacks attempting to portray Siegel as a “red diaper baby” who “won’t stand up to China.”

Exhibit A for McCaul’s attack? A speech Siegel gave to the San Francisco NLG chapter in 2014, when Siegel’s parents, Anne Weills and Dan Siegel, were honored at the annual testimonial dinner. As part of the tribute, Mike Siegel joked that if his parents were Cuban revolutionaries, his mom would be more like Che Guevara (because she has always been committed to grassroots organizing) while his dad is more like Fidel (drawn to institutional leadership). Now, McCaul has injected this speech into the campaign, as he paints Siegel as “too liberal for Texas.”

The irony in all this, is that Mike Siegel’s parents faced red-baiting throughout their decades in the civil rights movement. Anne Weills started working in the early 1960s to organize for African-Americans to get jobs and resist housing segregation in San Francisco. And Dan Siegel got his start during the Freedom Summer of 1964.

As Dan says, “it was my trip to the South that inspired me to become a civil rights lawyer. As we worked to integrate lunch counters and support the movement of Black activists across the South, we faced immense repression. Beatings, threats on our life, and of course police brutality and arrests. I noticed that there were few lawyers who were there to defend us and bail us out — and most of them were Lawyers Guild members.”

Mike Siegel started his career as a public school teacher and then attended Cornell Law School, where he was active in the student NLG chapter. He says, “I was inspired to become a lawyer when I was teaching in Brooklyn, New York, and lived through the attacks of 9/11. After seeing the community come together in a beautiful way, to support each other and foster movements for peace and solidarity, I was horrified how the Bush Administration used that moment to not only advance war abroad, but to also terrorize the Muslim, South Asian and Middle Eastern communities at home. I became a lawyer to fight Attorney General John Ashcroft and support movements for civil and human rights.”

In Texas, Mike Siegel has served as an Austin City Attorney, where he was the lead attorney in a lawsuit to stop Texas Senate Bill 4, a “show me your papers” law passed in 2017 that encouraged racial profiling and harassment of immigrant communities. He also took on cases to challenge housing segregation, to fight for tenants at large apartment complexes, and defend union contracts from right-wing attacks.

His mom, Anne Weills, sees history repeating itself. “In the 1960s, when Dan and I were fighting racism in the South and in the Bay Area, white people who worked in solidarity with Black civil rights workers were called communists and outside agitators. It was a way to delegitimize the struggle for basic human dignity. Now Michael is out there in Texas, standing up for immigrant communities, challenging racist practices, and he’s being red-baited again. The right hasn’t changed its playbook in 50 years.”

Her son is undeterred, however. “I’ve spent 21 years as a teacher and civil rights lawyer, fighting for the community,” Mike says. “I’m running on a platform of universal healthcare, a national jobs program, and strong action on climate change. They can’t attack my work or my policies, so they are grasping for straws. These attacks are a sign of weakness — they know we can win.”

Posted in NLG Blog.