Leo Brent Bozell Jr. (January 15, 1926 – April 15, 1997) was an American conservative activist and Roman Catholic writer.
His parents were Lois (née Robbins) and Leo B. Bozell, the co-founder of Bozell Worldwide. His wife was Patricia Lee Buckley, sister of William F. Buckley, and their 10 children include L. Brent Bozell III, also a conservative activist and the founder and president of Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog group and publisher. Another son, Michael Bozell, is a Benedictine monk in Solesmes Abbey. The Bozell family grew to 23 grandchildren and a great-grandchild by the time that Bozell died. His godson was novelist Tristan Egolf.
Bozell was born in Omaha, Nebraska and attended Creighton Preparatory School in Omaha, Nebraska. Bozell was the state American Legion Oratorical Contest Champion of Nebraska in 1943 and 1944, winning the national title in 1944. He served in the U.S. Merchant Marine in the Pacific during World War II. Bozell resolved to convert to Catholicism in 1946 but after his father's death that same year he deferred his decision until 1947 so as not to upset his family.
"A young, energetic red-haired Yalie from Omaha", as he is described in Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, Bozell was the best friend and debating society teammate of William F. Buckley Jr. at Yale University, where he was President of the Yale Political Union and the campus World Federalist Movement.
In 1958, Bozell ran for the Maryland House of Delegates but lost. After this defeat he proposed the formation of a new political party at one of the editors' evening meetings in New York; the idea was summarily rejected by the more fusionist editors Buckley and James Burnham. He later worked as a speechwriter for Senator Barry Goldwater, for whom he ghostwrote the 1960 book The Conscience of a Conservative. He was a founding member of Young Americans for Freedom.
In 1960, he took his family to Spain for the first time, making him absent from the Palm Beach decision of Buckley, Goldwater, Russell Kirk, and William Baroody Sr. to freeze out the John Birch Society from the conservative movement. Kirk inferred that Bozell would not have had any reason to be opposed to the decision, but, in fact, he, along with Frank Meyer and William Rusher, protested the exclusion of the Society from the conservative movement. After the failed attempt to draft Goldwater at the 1960 Republican National Convention, Bozell, a strong proponent of a Goldwater candidacy, was disappointed and annoyed by the would-be candidate's firm endorsement of the moderate Richard Nixon-Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. ticket. In 1962, addressing an 18,500 strong conservative rally in New York City's Madison Square Garden, he issued a rhetorical order to the Berlin commander, "Tear down the Berlin Wall," which would be echoed more famously 25 years later by Ronald Reagan, who exhorted Mikhail Gorbachev to "Tear down this wall!"
In 1964, Bozell ran for the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland against Charles Mathias, one of the leaders of the then-influential liberal wing of the Republican Party; references to the gnostic heresy and to the "arcana of Spanish legitimism" made during his campaign speeches may have contributed to his loss. In 1965, he moved his family to Spain purportedly because "you breathed the Catholic thing there" and, along with Frederick Wilhelmsen and William Marshner among others, founded the Catholic magazine Triumph in 1966 which Bozell intended to be a bulwark of Catholic orthodoxy and a sort of National Review for Catholics. The magazine featured contributions from distinguished names such as Russell Kirk (a Catholic convert), Christopher Dawson, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, John Lukacs, Thomas Molnar, Jeffrey Hart, Sir Arnold Lunn, Charles Journet, Rousas John Rushdoony (a Calvinist), and initially received an enthusiastic endorsement by Buckley in the pages of National Review.
However, the relationship between Bozell and his brother-in-law had already begun to sour; in March 1966, when Buckley wrote a column warning that Catholics should not try to seek legislation that would impose on others their belief that abortion is murder, Bozell wrote a letter to the editors of National Review protesting that the column "reeks of relativism.... Mr. Buckley writes in this instance as though he had never heard of the natural law." Buckley was stung by the letter and had composed a bitter reply, but decided against sending it. In 1966, Bozell published The Warren Revolution, a scholarly critique of the Supreme Court of the United States under Chief Justice Earl Warren. Despite his relocation to Spain, Bozell remained conscious of US politics; he opposed the Richard Nixon administration, intoning in the pages of Triumph that by supporting Nixon's candidacy in 1968, the conservative movement had "ceased to be an important political force in America." (Buckley would later change his mind and would agree with Bozell on this subject.)
He later repudiated his support for the American experiment itself, as well as his own book The Warren Revolution. Buckley summarized Bozell's new position as follows: "[Bozell's] thesis now is that the republic of the Founding Fathers was doomed because of their failure to adequately enthrall the city of man to the City of God." Bozell himself felt estranged from the United States in general and in particular the conservative movement in which he was once a rising star, denouncing conservatism as "an inadequate substitute for Christian politics." Especially following the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, Bozell began to see the United States as a force of evil comparable in magnitude to the Soviet Union and denounced both democratic capitalism as well as Communism. Triumph idealized Francoist Spain, criticized the events leading up to the Vietnam War, including the US-backed assassination of the Catholic President of South Vietnam Ngo Dinh Diem, and the conduct of the conflict thereafter as irreconcilable with Just War Theory, declared against chemical warfare and nuclear deterrence (the latter Bozell had once been a strong proponent of), and identified its economic views with distributism.
Friends of Bozell blamed his increasing devotion to Catholicism, his radicalism, and his dissolving relationship with Buckley (who was reportedly traumatized by the loss of his closest friend) on alleged mental deterioration; Neal Freeman had said "Brent simply started to fade and you could see it happening, but you couldn't do anything about it." John Judis writes in William Buckley Jr.: Patron Saint of the Conservatives: "The breakup of their relationship probably could not have occurred ten years prior or ten years hence. It was very much a product of the tumultuous sixties, which exhilarated Buckley and which lifted him to new heights of celebrity, but in which more troubled, less stable souls like Bozell capsized."
After founding Triumph, Bozell also founded the Society of the Christian Commonwealth whose educational arm, the Christian Commonwealth Institute headed by Warren Carroll, conducted annual classes, lectures, and seminars at the El Escorial in Spain. The entirety of the original faculty of and many of the donors to Christendom College had attended the program in Spain and were subscribers to Triumph. Carroll later remarked in his obituary for Bozell, "In a very fundamental sense, Christendom College was a Triumph enterprise."
Bozell was a staunch supporter of Pope Paul VI and strongly defended his condemnation of birth control in the encyclical Humanae Vitae but disagreed with the pope's decisions regarding the liturgy. He was a founding member of and served as a special ambassador for Catholics United for the Faith. Since its founding, Triumph teetered on the verge of collapse and Bozell was planning on shutting the magazine down until Patricia Bozell attended a forum at the Catholic University of America featuring radical feminist Ti-Grace Atkinson in March 1971. When Atkinson said the Virgin Mary was more "used" than if she had participated in a sexual conception, Patricia attempted to slap her and her hand hit the microphone and she was escorted out. When Bozell heard what his wife had done, he rose to his full height (he was a tall, Lincolnesque figure) and bellowed, "To Hell with Catholic University!" The positive reader feedback convinced him to keep the magazine alive. In 1976, after the death of Francisco Franco and the beginning of the Spanish transition to democracy, Triumph ceased publication.
In 1985, Bozell founded Misión Guadalupe, a program devoted to the assistance and evangelization of Hispanic immigrants.
Bozell faithfully visited the inmates of Washington's Lorton Correctional Complex in Northern Virginia every week for years until his death.
In June 1970, three years before the Roe v. Wade decision and when abortion was illegal in most of the United States, with the exception of California, Washington DC and New York, Brent and Patricia Bozell led the first "Operation Rescue" mission to try by direct action to negotiate with administrators at George Washington University Hospital Clinic in Washington, DC where abortion was permitted for the mental well-being of the mother.
Bozell had written a letter asking administrators of the clinic to stop the abortions and, if they would not do so, Bozell requested among a list of things, the Clinic's appointment of a registered Catholic nurse to administer Baptism and prepare the bodies for Catholic burial after each child was aborted. Bozell and a group of 230 met at St. Stephen Martyr Church for a "Funeral Mass for The Holy Innocents" celebrated by four priests, including an African American, a Chinese, and a Hispanic. The rally afterwards included speakers at GW Circle and a Pro Life student group from the University of Dallas, "Los Hijos de la Tormenta" or The Sons of Thunder, who dressed in khaki and red berets (red berets are worn by the Basques, whom Bozell came to admire while in Spain), wore Rosaries around their necks and carried papal flags.
After the rally speakers finished, Bozell and seven others (five men and two women) began walking across the street to the GW Clinic from GW Circle and Bozell put on his red beret and took hold of a wooden cross. When Bozell found the entrance to the public clinic locked, he and the other men ran to a side entrance. Patricia's daughter knelt down on the grass when she heard the glass door inside the Clinic shatter and the four (4) men who had gone inside the Clinic with her father being beaten by police. A young high school graduate ahead of her returned from entering the Clinic and began to recite the Rosary with Bozell's daughter until Patricia Bozell and the other participants of the rally caught up and joined the recitation of the Rosary. All attending the rally after the Mass and prior to Bozell's scheduled visit to the GW Clinic heard speakers, including one who declared "America... you are daggering to death your unborn of tomorrow. The very cleanliness of your sterilized murder gives off the stench of death."
Along with four others, Bozell was met by police and was beaten with clubs on the head. A police officer grabbed Bozell's wooden cross and broke it in half. Bozell was thrown down and handcuffed. In the ensuing scuffle between the protestors and the police, Brad Evans, a former quarterback for Kentucky State University entered the Clinic last but had to insert his wooden Cross into the door to wedge himself in as others pushed against the door. Evans entered the Clinic but the plate glass door to the Clinic shattered from the force of bodies against it. Bozell and four others were arrested and given suspended sentences. Brad Evans died 10 years later from head injuries suffered from police blows while Bozell was never the same again after his head injuries and died 27 years later. Triumph (magazine) closed its offices 2 years after these events.
Four years earlier, Bozell had written, "Disorder has become characteristic of a society when the streets of its cities, even its country lanes, can no longer be passed safely at night." When this was brought up to him after the GWU episode, he replied somewhat testily, "If disorder is necessary to stop this murdering of babies, I'm in favor of disorder." This demonstration dismayed "law and order" conservatives already upset with antiwar and student demonstrations on the left. Buckley denounced his brother-in-law's actions, declaring in the pages of National Review "the Sons of Thunder have moved precious few of the unconvinced over to their side." Bozell and the Triumph staff were undeterred and remained active in early pro-life work, including the organization of the first March for Life.
The cover of the January 1973 issue of Triumph was solid black in mourning for Roe v. Wade, except for a small logo at the top and a white cross and the words "For the children" in the lower right hand corner.
Illnesses and death
Bozell suffered from bipolar disorder, writing publicly about his experiences, suffering, and recovery in the introduction to Mustard Seeds, a collection mostly of his post-National Review writings (including many from Triumph) published in 1986. The book included "Poland's Cross—And America's," Bozell's first National Review essay in almost two decades. It also included the National Review essay, for which he may be remembered best, "Freedom or Virtue," which touched off a robust debate between himself and Meyer, mostly around whether freedom or virtue should be the paramount consideration for American conservatives.
Bozell died of pneumonia in a nursing home in Bethesda, Maryland on April 15, 1997 at the age of 71 after years of numerous and crippling health problems. His son, L. Brent Bozell III, spoke of those struggles when eulogizing him:
Dozens of times over...25 years the attacks would come, and with each bout, yet another blow, yet another public humiliation. There were arrests and forced hospitalizations, escapes and re-arrests and recommitments. There was the never-ending parade of lawyers, police, doctors, and, yes, from time to time the State Department was on the line to brief us on yet another prospective international upheaval caused by this very unpredictable man.
Manic depression by itself is enough to break the spirit of any man, but Pop was no ordinary man. He suffered from peripheral neuropathy, sleep apnea, osteoporosis, degenerative disc disease, asthma, and Alzheimer's. One by one they came, and when it seemed that no part of his body had been left untouched yet a new illness was diagnosed. We wondered how he could endure so much, accept this torture with such nobility, with never one word of complaint.
- (contributor) The Best of Triumph. Lawrence, E. Michael, ed. Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press ISBN 0-931888-72-7.
- McCarthy and His Enemies (with Buckley, William F. Jr.) Chicago: Regnery, 1954. Reissued as ISBN 0-89526-472-2.
- The Warren Revolution. (New York: Arlington House, 1966.)
- Mustard Seeds: A Conservative Becomes a Catholic. Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press ISBN 0-931888-73-5.