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Who Is Saul Alinsky? Ben Carson Claims He Was Hillary Clinton’s ‘Role Model’

Carson: We Can't Elect President Whose Mentor Accepts Lucifer 0:41

Ben Carson delivered animated remarks about Hillary Clinton at the GOP Convention on Tuesday night, dropping a name that has become a lightning rod for Republicans: Saul Alinsky.

Carson has repeatedly played up Clinton's supposed admiration of Alinsky, a famed community organizer and writer, while on the campaign trail.

Image: SAUL ALINSKY
Saul Alinsky poses in 1966 on Chicago's South Side where he organized the Woodlawn area to battle slum conditions. AP file

"So, are we willing to elect someone as president who has, as their role model, somebody who acknowledges Lucifer?" Carson asked Tuesday to a round of boos. The reference: Alinsky appears to praise Lucifer in his 1971 book, "Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals."

Related: Republicans Pummel Hillary Clinton in Attempt to Unite GOP

But the real-life Alinsky, who died in 1972, has a more complex legacy than Carson's description implies.

Why was he controversial?

Alinsky, born to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents in 1909, is credited with inventing many of the modern-day techniques for community organizing. He eschewed organized politics when he became a prominent community activist in Chicago's languishing South Side.

In the 1940s, he helped to start the Industrial Areas Foundation, and his work took him to decaying urban and poor black communities from Southern California to Detroit to New York City.

In his writing, Alinsky described the ways for radicals and liberals to act, saying that organizing was a means for people to gain power. Among his ideals were that "the price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative."

The FBI kept tabs on Alinsky, and in files he was called a "self-described agitator who admits to rubbing raw the sores of discontent (and) says his goal is the peaceful integration of the entire city and suburbs."

Conservative author William F. Buckley Jr. once acknowledged that Alinksy was "twice formidable, and very close to being an organizational genius."

Did Clinton know him?

Alinsky became a mentor of sorts for Clinton and was the subject of her senior thesis at Wellesley College in 1969. Her academic paper was entitled, "'There Is Only the Fight...': An Analysis of the Alinsky Model."

Clinton interviewed him for her paper, and the pair swapped letters with one another as well.

In some of those letters obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, a then-23-year-old Clinton refers to Alinsky as Saul. She thanks him for his encouraging words and says she misses their "biennial conversations."

"Hopefully we can have a good argument sometime in the near future," she concludes.

In her 2003 memoir, "Living History," Clinton mentioned being offered a job by Alinsky after graduation, but turning it down in favor of law school.

Her 92-page senior thesis became the subject of scrutiny in the Democratic race for president in 2007 because the White House had kept it from being released during husband Bill Clinton's presidency.

Was 'Rules for Radicals' dedicated to Lucifer?

Carson has repeatedly claimed that Alinsky's book was dedicated to the devil — but it's actually in honor of his wife, Irene.

Lucifer is mentioned in the beginning of the book — part of a series of quotes — as a sort of radical in his own right. The Biblical figure is described as "the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer."

But others see the passage without any serious connotations.

"Can't expect Ben Carson to recognize irony or humor," author Salman Rushdie, who was excoriated by Iran's religious leaders for his 1988 novel "The Satanic Verses," tweeted Wednesday.

The Clinton campaign has not commented on Carson referencing her ties to Alinsky.