Past Program Faculty

Murray Bessette, Ph.D.
Murray Bessette is the director of academic programs at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, where he leads its educational and scholarly activities. Before joining the Foundation, Bessette was an associate professor of government at Morehead State University, specializing in political philosophy, national security, intelligence studies, and counter-terrorism. He is the author of numerous articles and book chapters. He is a past president of the Kentucky Political Science Association, Lincoln fellow of the Claremont Institute, academic fellow of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and co-director of the Bluegrass State Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence. Bessette holds a B.A. honours and M.A. from the University of Alberta, an M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the Claremont Graduate University, and an executive certificate in counter-terrorism studies from the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, Israel.
Claire McCaffery Griffin
Claire McCaffery Griffin, Principal of CGC, LLC, is an independent consultant with nearly 40 years of experience in civic education. She was a high school teacher for 28 years and then served as vice president for education programs of the Bill of Rights Institute, where she co-authored eight curricular resources and presented professional development programs to thousands of teachers from all 50 states.
Gregory McBrayer, Ph.D.
Gregory McBrayer is an assistant professor of government at Ashland University. He holds a Ph.D. in government and politics from the University of Maryland, and a BA in political science and economics from Emory University. McBrayer’s specialty is in the history of political thought, and he has regularly taught thinkers in the history of economic thought as well, including Aristotle, Xenophon, Locke, Montesquieu, Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. He is currently a senior editor for PEGS: The Political Economy of the Good Society and was formerly managing editor.
Heather Miller
Heather Miller is native to Hillsdale, Michigan and graduated from Hillsdale College in 2015 with a B.A. in history and mathematics. During the summer of 2014, Miller interned for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and became familiar with the mission and initiatives of the Foundation. Miller taught 12th grade US government and 8th grade American history at the The Vanguard School, a classical charter school in Colorado Springs. She currently teaches at Hillsdale Academy in Michigan.
Kathleen Ouyang
Kathleen Ouyang is a high school history teacher at Oakcrest School and a 2018 alumni of the National Seminar for Middle & High School Educators. She teaches AP US Government and Politics and Ancient World History. She attended Roanoke College where she earned a B.A. in History with a concentration in East Asian Studies. During her undergraduate years, she and three of her fellow classmates were awarded a ASIANetwork Freeman Foundation Award to study the Silk Road in China. While studying as an U.S. Fulbright Student Research Fellow, Kathleen researched the history of heritage tourism in the Chinese city of Xi'an, developing her research topic with an advisor from Northwest University in Xi'an.
Jonathan Pidluzny, Ph.D.
Jonathan Pidluzny is the Director of Academic Affairs at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), where he works with governing boards, faculty, and administrators to promote academic excellence (especially in the liberal arts), fiscal responsibility, and academic freedom. Prior to joining ACTA, Pidluzny was an associate professor of political science and the political science program coordinator at Morehead State University, where he won several awards for teaching excellence. His research focuses on the social and civic prerequisites of liberal democracy—at home and in the Middle East. He has recently become interested in Pope John Paul II’s criticism of Marxism/Leninism and the role he played encouraging democratic reforms in Eastern Europe.
Elizabeth Edwards Spalding, Ph.D.

Elizabeth Edwards Spalding is an associate professor of government and director of the Washington Program of Claremont McKenna College. She holds a Ph.D. and an M.A. in international politics and political theory from the University of Virginia, and a B.A. in political science from Hillsdale College. Spalding’s specialty is U.S. national security and foreign policy, including the Cold War and America’s role in the post-Cold War World. She is the author of numerous articles and book chapters, as well as The First Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, Containment, and the Remaking of Liberal Internationalism, and co-author of A Brief History of the Cold War.

F. Flagg Taylor IV, Ph.D.
F. Flagg Taylor IV serves on the Academic Council of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and is an associate professor of government at Skidmore College. He holds a Ph.D. and an M.A. in political science from Fordham University and a B.A. from Kenyon College. Taylor’s specialty is in the history of political thought and American government, especially the question of executive power. He is the co-author of The Contested Removal Power, 1789-2010, author of numerous articles, and editor of The Great Lie: Classic and Recent Appraisals of Ideology and Totalitarianism and The Long Night of the Watchman: Essays by Václav Benda, 1977-1989.
Dani Urankar
Dani Urankar is the Operations Associate at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, and was previously the Academic Programs Associate at the foundation. Dani earned her B.A. in Political Sciences and Economics with a minor in History from Christendom College and was formerly an Operations Associate at the Seminar Network Shared Services, supporting the events of the Charles Koch Foundation affiliated organizations. 

Past Witnesses

Rushan Abbas
Rushan Abbas is Founder of Campaign for Uyghurs. Abbas is a former student activist of the pro-democracy demonstrations at Xinjiang University in 1985 and 1988. She served as the Vice-President of the Students’ Science and Culture Union at the university in 1987. Abbas frequently briefed the U.S lawmakers and officials on the human rights situation in Xinjiang. She regularly appears on media outlets to advocate for the Uyghur cause and gives public speeches in universities and think tanks.
Enrique Altimari
Enrique Altimari is a Venezuelan pro-democracy advocate. He is currently studying philosophy at King's College London where he is researching the metaphysical status of politics from the viewpoint of ancient philosophy. He is the official international Representative of Primero Justicia in London. Enrique is a graduate of Monteavila University, where he conducted extensive research on political philosophy and the Venezuelan Constitution of 1999 that led to an award-winning essay combining political philosophy, political theory and constitutional law. Previously, he was an intern in Baker McKenzie's Banking and Finance Department.
Sirley Ávila León

Sirley Ávila León, is an ex-delegate of the People’s Assembly of Majibacoa. She joined the democratic opposition after she was driven out of her position for trying to keep a school open in her community. Official channels ignored her, and when she went to the international media she was removed from office. Following escalating acts of repression by state security, she was gravely wounded in a machete attack on May 24, 2015 at 3:00 p.m. The assailant was Osmany Carrión, who had been “sent by state-security thugs,” Ávila León explains, for an act of aggression that “was politically motivated." Threats escalated against her and her family leading to her decision to flee Cuba and seek asylum in the United States. She arrived in Miami, Florida on October 29, 2016 and continues to denounce the gross and systematic human rights violations taking place in Cuba today.

Włodzmierz Batóg, Ph.D.
Włodzimierz Batóg serves as Professor of American History at Jan Kochanowski University in Kielce, Poland. Previously, he was Senior Polish Studies Fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. He is a recipient of many European and American research grants including Fulbright Fellowship at Boston College and Kosciuszko research grant at New York University. His research concentrates on American Communism and anti-communism and radical left in the 1950s and 1960s. He is currently working on books on the communists in the Polish diaspora in Chicago and Detroit during the 1930s and 1940s, and on Billy Graham’s historic visit to Poland in 1978.
Alvaro Briceno
Alvaro Briceno is a Member of Amnesty International, the five years Coordinator of the Venezuelan Section, an elected member to the International Executive Committee in London, UK and in charge of overseeing the whole movement. He has sat in boards of NGOs in Venezuela, Canada and the USA. He has taught at the university level and graduate courses on Strategic Thinking and Planning, Public Management and has experience in countries: Belize, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica Republic, Ecuador, El Slavador, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama and Venezuela. 
Channy Chhi Laux
Channy Chhi Laux is a survivor of the Cambodian genocide. When the communist Khmer Rouge began their killing in 1975, she was thirteen years old. In June of 1979, Chhi Laux arrived in Lincoln Nebraska as a refugee. After four years of starving, torture, labor camps, no school and not knowing a word of English, she attended Lincoln High School then earned a Master of Science in Applied Mathematics from Santa Clara University and undergraduate degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Chhi Laux worked in Silicon Valley as an engineer in the Aerospace and Biotech industries for 30 years before starting her own business, Angkor Cambodian Food, where she received multiple awards internationally recognizing her products for excellence in food innovation. Chhi Laux has also received multiple book awards for her autobiography, Short Hair Detention: Memoir of a Thirteen-Year-Old Girl Surviving the Cambodian Genocide. Today Chhi Laux continues to strive toward her American dream and give back to the country that gave her a second chance of freedom. She actively manages her food manufacturing business with the goal of bringing Cambodian cuisine into American kitchens. She also travels the country, sharing her personal story of the darkest years struggling and surviving the Cambodian genocide, and how the communist ideology destroyed two generations of her family. She believes that only through education can we make informed decisions. She is a strong supporter of the first amendment, and promoter of personal responsibility.
Daniel Di Martino
Daniel Di Martino was born in 1999 in Venezuela, where he experienced the terrible consequences of socialism firsthand. In 2016, Di Martino left Venezuela to go to college at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, where he is a senior majoring in Quantitative Economics. He writes about economics, foreign policy and strives to be an advocate for freedom around the world. His experience in a socialist country taught him that any country can go through what Venezuela experienced, and his goal is to stop it from ever happening again. Di Martino has been on national TV dozens of times, being interviewed in Fox News, Fox Business, CNN, i24 News English, and many other TV channels and radio stations. He regularly writes op-eds and articles for outlets such as the USA Today, Real Clear Policy, the Washington Times, The Federalist, and many more. You can read them here. Di Martino is also a sought-after public speaker who lays out the problems of socialism using his story and first-hand knowledge to connect with diverse audiences. He has spoken at events and conferences of organizations like Moms for America, the State Financial Officers Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, and universities such as Ball State University and the University of Kentucky.
Đoàn Viết Hoạt

Đoàn Viết Hoạt is a journalist from the south of Vietnam. After Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975, he was detained in a reeducation camp for 12 years. Upon his release, he founded Freedom Forum, a discussion group and newspaper that advocated free speech and the release of all political prisoners. Involvement in the group led to Viết Hoạt’s renewed arrest in 1990 for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government. He was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment in March 1993, and in 1994 he was given the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. His sentence later was reduced to 15 years’ imprisonment and five years’ house arrest. He was released at the beginning of September 1998 as part of a large-scale prisoner amnesty to mark the country’s Independence Day, and he now lives in the United States.

Lianchao Han, Ph.D.
Lianchao Han is a long time pro-democracy activist. He began his advocacy in the late 1970s in China as a student leader in Hunan and was one of the organizers of the early student protests for free elections in China. Han worked in the Chinese Foreign Ministry after graduating from law school. He later left China to study in the US. After the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, Han was one of the founders and the first vice president of the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars, the largest overseas pro-democracy organization, and successfully worked to influence the US human rights policy toward China. He worked in the US Senate for 12 years, serving as legislative counsel and policy director for three Senators responsible for legislative strategy in the areas of federal budget, taxation, Social Security and economic policy. Han is a registered US patent attorney and specializes in intellectual property protection strategies and innovation-related issues. Han is also an expert on China’s economic and political development, and currently serves as a Visiting Fellow at the Hudson Institute. Han holds graduate degrees from China Foreign Affairs University, Yale University, George Mason University, and Johns Hopkins University.
Dolkun Isa

Dolkun Isa was a student-leader of the pro-democracy demonstrations at Xinjiang University in 1988. He founded the Students’ Science and Culture Union at the university in 1987 and worked on programs to eliminate illiteracy and to promote science and to lead other students in East Turkestan. He was expelled from the university in September 1988 after four months of house arrest and a six hour-long dialogue with government officials about the students’ demands but completed his physics degree via independent study, and went on to receive a Master’s degree in Politics and Sociology from Gazi University in Turkey and a degree in Computer Science in Munich, Germany. After enduring persecution from the Chinese government, Isa fled China in 1994, sought asylum in Europe, and became a citizen of Germany in 2006. In November 1996, he played an important role in establishing the World Uyghur Youth Congress in Germany and served as Executive Chairman and President. In April 2004, he also played an important role in the establishment of the World Uyghur Congress through the merger of the East Turkestan National Congress and the World Uyghur Youth Congress and was elected General Secretary. He has since been presenting Uyghur human rights issues to the UN Human Rights Council, European Parliament, European governments and international human rights organizations. Isa is the current President of the World Uyghur Congress. In 2017, he was elected as the Vice-President of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), of which the World Uyghur Congress is a member. In this capacity, he works with other marginalized or unrepresented peoples to collectively strive for democracy, freedom and respect for basic human rights. Isa is a recipient of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation’s Human Rights Award. 

Grace Jo
Grace Jo was born in North Korea, a place where she almost starved to death as a child during the Great Famine of the 1990s. Jo's father was tortured and starved to death for the "crime" of leaving the country to search for food for his family in China. Jo lost most of her family during this time, and in 1998, Jo's mother concluded there was no hope for her family in North Korea. On Jo's seventh birthday, she, her mother, and her older sister Jinhye crossed the Tumen River into China. For ten years the family hid in China in fear as undocumented North Koreans, moving between locations frequently to avoid discovery. During this time, Jo was caught and repatriated to North Korea twice, spending time in Chinese and North Korean detention centers and a North Korean orphanage. In 2006, Jo and her family were granted protection by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Beijing and allowed to enter the United States as refugees in 2008. Today, Jo volunteers as Vice President of NKinUSA and is also a full-time college student.
Joseph Kim
Joseph Kim is an assistant and Expert in Residence on the Human Freedom Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. He was born and raised in North Korea. At the age of 12, his father died of starvation and he was separated from his mother and sister. In 2006, Joseph escaped North Korea and went to China. In China, he connected with an international NGO called Liberty in North Korea (LiNK). A year later, he left China for the United States and claimed refugee status under the North Korean Human Rights Act, signed by President George W. Bush in 2004. In 2013, Joseph delivered a TED Talk on the importance of hope and published a memoir, “Under the Same Sky.” Joseph interned as a research assistant at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Korea Chair. He is a former America Needs You Fellow and Council of Korean Americans PSI Intern. He earned a B.A. in political studies from Bard College and published a thesis titled, “Marketization in North Korea is Corrupting the Corrupted.”
Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso
Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso was born to a Christian Protestant family. As a child, he went to the church where he received an education that later helped him in understanding how totalitarian the Cuban regime was. He became a priest, founded the website, cubanconfessorate.com and began to report the crimes of the Cuban regome on his Twitter account. He published the complaint of the dissident Juan Alfredo Soto who died after being beaten. He suffered persecution from the state police and was arrested several times, among other during Barack Obama's visit to Cuba in 2016. He currently resides in the United States but maintans contact with the Cuban dissisdents at the island.
Francisco Marquez Lara

Francisco Marquez Lara is a Venezuelan lawyer and political activist. He was a political prisoner for four months and was forced into exile in the U.S by the Venezuelan Government. Before his imprisonment in June 2016, he was Chief of Staff of the Mayor of El Hatillo in Caracas starting in 2014 and worked with the Lt. Governor of the State of Miranda in 2013. He obtained his Law degree in the Catholic University Andres Bello (2009) and his master’s in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School (2012). He is currently focusing on torture and human rights issues and researching on the erosion of democracy in Venezuela.

Merita McCormack
Merita McCormack was born in Korça city and raised in the rural village of Cangonj in Southeastern Albania. McCormack's maternal grandfather was branded a "kulak" (rich peasant) in 1948. He, his family, and others so labeled had no right of assembly, education, or free movement. Her paternal grandfather was also a staunch opponent of the regime and joined the National Front to fight against communism. McCormack currently teaches Albanian Language and Culture for a Federal Government contractor. She served as the president of VATRA DC from 2009-2017 and is currently a member of its governing board. A convert to the Catholic faith, McCormack has helped many of her compatriots find truth and often organizes high-level meetings with Albanian and Kosovo politicians and clergy (including the Vicar General of Kosovo) at the Library of Congress. She has also worked with the Diocese of Arlington to provide Albanian language masses. McCormack has a degree in Agricultural Economics and an MBA from Surrey University, UK. She is working on a book entitled Life Under Communism.
Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo is a Cuban writer and photographer. He was born in Havana, Cuba and graduated from the University of Havana with a degree in biochemistry. In 2010, Lazo founded Cuba’s first digital magazine, Voces. He is editor of Voces and two other Cuban independent digital magazines, Cacharro(s) and The Revolution Evening Post. Lazo is an outspoken critic of the Castro regime and he was arrested three times in Cuba by Castro’s political police. In 2013, he had to leave Cuba and since then he has been giving lectures at U.S. universities about social activism, civil society, and new tendencies in Cuban literature and its censorship by the State. He has participated in several academic events, including ASCE Congress 2014 and LASA Congress 2015. In Cuba, he published the books of narrative Collage Karaoke, Empezar de cero, Ipatrías, and Mi nombre es William Saroyan. His fiction book, Boring Home, was censored by LETRAS CUBANAS publishing house and published abroad. In 2014, O/R Books published his Cuban new narrative anthology Cuba in Splinters and Restless Books published his digital photobook Abandoned Havana with a preface by Jon Lee Anderson. Since 2016, Lazo has studied in a Ph.D. program in Comparative Literature at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, on the topic of political pilgrims to the Cuban Revolution. He blogs at “Lunes de post-Revolución,” translated into English as “Post-Revolution Mondays.”
Lily Tang Williams

Lily Tang Williams was a Chinese lawyer and law assistant professor, who became an American businesswoman and liberty activist. Born to illiterate working-class parents in China’s western Sichuan province just before the Cultural Revolution, Williams directly witnessed Chairman Mao’s takeover and the horrors his regime inflicted, including extremely poor living conditions, food rationing, political and social chaos and, Communist indoctrination. She graduated from Fudan University in Shanghai with an undergraduate law degree. After graduation, she was selected to continue as part of the law school faculty, as well as practice corporate law in Shanghai as China began to rebuild its economy. In 1988, Williams decided to study in the U.S., leaving her position with only $100 in her pocket and $1,200 in debt to her American sponsor, a Fulbright professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Though she could not speak English fluently she was determined to achieve success in the U.S., earning a master’s degree in Administration and Planning from the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin. Subsequently, Williams started work for Wyoming Home Health as a medical social worker, and later she worked as an executive for corporations in both Hong Kong and the U.S. Eventually, she went into business for herself, providing consulting services in international business and buying and managing residential real estate properties. Williams became a U.S citizen and voted for the first time in her life in 2000. In 2014, she ran for Colorado State House District 44 and in 2016, Williams was the candidate for U.S. Senate in Colorado. Today, Williams continues to manage her own business and travels frequently throughout the states to share the story of her American Dream, defending free speech and free enterprise, and promoting civil and economic liberties.

Jianli Yang, Ph.D.
Jianli Yang is a scholar and democracy activist internationally recognized for his efforts to promote democracy in China. He has been involved in the Chinese democracy movement since the 1980s. He participated in the 1989 Tiananmen protests and co-authored the Constitution of a Federal Democratic China. He holds PhDs in mathematics from the University of California at Berkeley and in political economy from Harvard University. In 2002, Yang returned to China to support the labor movement and was imprisoned for five years. Following his release and his subsequent return to the US, Yang founded Initiatives for China, a.k.a. Citizen Power for China, an organization that promotes China’s peaceful transition to democracy. In March, 2010 Yang co-chaired the Committee on Internet Freedom at the Geneva Human Rights and Democracy Summit. In December 2010, Yang represented Liu Xiaobo at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. In December 2011, Yang joined H.H. Dalai Lama and four other delegates to attend Forum 2000, hosted by former Czech president Václav Havel. Yang is a recipient of numerous international human rights awards, including the 2013 Truman-Reagan Freedom Medal from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.