In the mid-1970s a former Trotskyist named Lyndon LaRouche emerged from the wreckage of the New Left with a few hundred young followers in tow. Claiming to have "subsumed" Marxism, he announced that henceforth he and his associates would champion the industrial capitalists rather than the proletariat. Organizers for his National Caucus of Labor Committees (NCLC) began contacting everyone they and their fellow radicals of the anti-Vietnam War movement had reviled—the CIA and FBI, the Pentagon, local police red squads, wealthy conservatives, GOP strategists, and even the Ku Klux Klan. Their announced objective was to build a grand coalition to rid American politics of the Enemy Within—the evil leftists, liberals, environmentalists, and Zionists.
Over the next decade the LaRouchians made extraordinary inroads into American politics, surpassing the achievements of any other extremist movement in recent American history. Their success was all the more impressive considering that it was achieved during a period of economic prosperity and political stability.
They built a nationwide election machine that fielded thousands of candidates in Democratic primaries in the mid-1980s, frequently picking up 20 percent or more of the vote and winning dozens of nominations for public office. In 1986 LaRouchians won the Democratic nominations for lieutenant governor and secretary of state in Illinois. Although this triggered attacks from the media and Democratic Party regulars, so-called LaRouche Democrats continued to win nominations and garner high vote percentages through 1988. In addition, their movement raised over $200 million in loans and donations from the American public during the 1980s, a sum far in excess of what any other extremist group had ever collected in this country. LaRouche, who was a perennial presidential candidate, used much of this money to purchase frequent half-hour network television spots. In effect, he became the televangelist of secular extremism, with each TV appearance helping him raise money to pay for the next one.
LaRouche also set up an international political intelligence "news service," a kind of parallel CIA, which gained him the ear not just of CIA officials but also of top National Security Council aides. He and his followers became valued, although unofficial, consultants to the Reagan administration during its first term. With NSC and Pentagon approval—and a little boost from the Department of State—they helped to promote the Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars") throughout the United States and overseas. They also served the interests of the administration and the GOP through various forms of snooping, smear campaigns, dirty tricks, and propaganda. This included things the Republicans could not directly carry out, such as the rumor campaign in 1988 about Michael Dukakis's mental health. Over the years the beneficiaries of LaRouche's snooping and trickery (whether solicited or not) included Ronald Reagan during his 1980 New Hampshire primary race, Labor Secretary Ray Donovan, U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, New Orleans crime lord Carlos Marcello, auto magnate John DeLorean, and the South African Bureau of State Security. The LaRouchians also helped out the late Teamsters boss Jackie Presser. Indeed, they made themselves useful in the late 1970s and early 1980s to officials on every level of the nation's most powerful union, providing "truth squads" that helped hoodlum elements maintain control of restive locals.
The media consistently avoided dealing with the fact that LaRouche had become a significant player in American politics. He was often described (by people who had not bothered to read his writings) as an eccentric whose ideas were too bizarre to worry about. The truth was that LaRouche was a man with a coherent program, subtle tactics, and—what is usually lacking in American politics—a long-range plan of how to get from here to there. Both in word and in deed, he was a serious ideologue in the classic European fascist mold. His pendulum swing from left to right in the 1970s had followed the pattern of Benito Mussolini, who was a socialist newspaper editor before founding Italy's Fascist Party. Likewise, LaRouche's occasional reversion to left-wing rhetoric when useful fit the pattern of the early Nazi brownshirts, who, after all, fancied themselves as "National Socialists."
LaRouche's classic fascist tactics included making demagogic appeals to mutually opposed constituencies (for instance, white supremacists and black nationalists) to unite them around a supposedly higher program. His synthetic ideology combined anti-Semitism with extreme militarism and the need for an authoritarian regime to rescue the industrial capitalist system from what he believed was an impending crisis. In the late 1970s, his followers began cultivating conservative businessmen with the message that LaRouche was the man to save the nation. Meanwhile, they set in motion their plan for a populist mass movement of farmers, small businessmen, and blue-collar workers, whose anger over drugs, unemployment, and high interest rates was to be channeled against the "Zionists." The political theory at work evidently was that simultaneous pressure from above and below, as in Germany in 1933, would put LaRouche into power at the propitious moment.
The American public had encountered few authentic homegrown fascists since the days of the German-American Bund and the Silver Shirts in the 1930s. Fascism had become, in the eyes of most, a relic of Europe's past with little relevance to politics today, and especially not to American politics. Before LaRouche, the closest approximations to a fascist movement in postwar America were the so-called hate groups—cross-burning Klansmen in bed sheets and goose-stepping neo-Nazi misfits in homemade uniforms. LaRouche for his part, being an educated man seriously committed to gaining power, avoided the simple-minded tactics and self-isolating symbols of these groups. When he wanted to signal his ultimate goals, he did so with finesse. For instance, during a 1988 presidential campaign ad on network television he urged in a low-key genial manner the rebuilding of Germany's Reichstag and the uniting of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. This was to be accomplished through an alliance of Germany and America to save the West, as LaRouche had repeatedly urged. Clearly, any display of a swastika banner would have been redundant.
LaRouche's relative urbanity made him more dangerous than the traditional hate-group leaders. Although the economic crisis and 1930s-style mass movement that he dreamed of did not arrive in the 1980s, he developed ties with many influential Americans in odd places, from Oklahoma oilmen through Detroit racketeers through conservative think-tankers in Washington. He tapped into their willingness to listen, although as yet only half-seriously, to the seemingly unthinkable. He made the fascist option a subject of legitimate debate by calling it something else (such as "humanism") or simply leaving it unnamed.
The sophistication that LaRouche brought to the American ultraright included his use of recruitment and control tactics borrowed from religious cults. Some observers, after encountering an especially cultish LaRouche follower, would define the group as being more like the Hari Krishnas than a political organization (and hence as less of a problem than the traditional hate groups). But the LaRouche organization's brainwashing methods deepened the commitment of its members to an extraordinary degree. The few hundred LaRouche cadres often performed organizational and fund-raising feats that an ordinary sect or a mainstream political organization would require many thousands of volunteers to carry out. Yet the NCLC ultimately was a political vanguard organization more than a cult, although it used cult methods in an intensive manner. (In this it was far from unique: Hitler's SS merged cultism and politics, as did Mao's Communist Party. Cult-style brainwashing was employed in the 1980s not only by the NCLC but also by PLO terrorists, Peruvian guerrillas, Central American death squads, and Christian fundamentalist political cadres in the Republican Party—to cite but a few examples. None of these groups were dismissed simply as a "cult" by the media.)
LaRouche avoided serious opposition for many years not just because of the cult label, but also because the media chose to portray him as a kook. Curiously, he delighted in encouraging this viewpoint by confirming to all and sundry that indeed he did believe the Queen of England pushes drugs. Yet underneath this useful pose of eccentricity (which cost him little yet sidetracked so much potential trouble for him), LaRouche strove to tap into something quite serious: the undercurrents of collective irrationalism in American politics. As he well knew, a significant portion of the American public had proven susceptible in the past, under conditions of economic distress or rapid social change, to ideas not unlike what he was espousing. During the Great Depression, this paranoid style in American politics had developed briefly into a large-scale pro-fascist movement, with millions of citizens listening to the radio priest Father Coughlin and joining the America First Committee. Even in the prosperous conditions after World War II, periodic eruptions continued: McCarthyism, the John Birch Society, the 1968 George Wallace campaign, the anti-busing movement of the 1970s.
To be sure, none of these postwar movements were really fascist. They lacked a truly fascist ideology, as well as a vanguard to provide the will to fascism. But what they had lacked LaRouche attempted in the 1980s to provide. He created in his voluminous writings an ideology that embodied the essence of fascism in an updated, Americanized form. He recruited a vanguard to organize around his program, while pioneering in slick new tactics to inject his ideas into strata of our society that traditionally had shown themselves susceptible to paranoid populism. Many of his counterparts in the Ku Klux Klan and other traditional white supremacist circles had so little self-confidence that they rarely tried to organize outside their own rural or blue-collar strata. But LaRouche reached out boldly to people of wealth and power, as well as to the forgotten and disinherited, striving to develop both a public and a private dialogue on any terms, no matter how opportunistic.
The NCLC chairman also built an organizational structure of extraordinary complexity to support his multileveled political organizing. In its mid-1980s form, this structure was dominated by the NCLC National Executive Committee, a dozen stalwarts operating under LaRouche's daily instructions. The NCLC had regional or local units in over twenty cities, each with its own steering committee. It also had a national office staff in Leesburg, Virginia, divided into "sectors"—legal, finance, operations, intelligence, and security. This central bureaucracy ran the "entities"—a network of political action committees, publishing ventures, educational and fund-raising arms, and business fronts.
The public directly encountered only the entities, not the shadowy NCLC. The National Democratic Policy Committee (NDPC) was the chief vehicle for LaRouchian electoral activity. The Fusion Energy Foundation (FEF) was its scientific think tank and an important lobbying tool. The NCLC also sponsored the Schiller Institute, an international propaganda arm headed by LaRouche's German wife, Helga Zepp-LaRouche.
Much of the NCLC's financial resources were poured into a propaganda machine that disseminated anti-Semitic literature nationwide in artfully disguised forms. The most important publication was the NCLC's twice-weekly newspaper, New Solidarity (called The New Federalist after 1986). The Campaigner, a monthly, was the theoretical journal. Persons who stopped at LaRouchian airport literature tables were most likely to see the weekly newsmagazine Executive Intelligence Review (EIR), as well as paperback books published by the New Benjamin Franklin Publishing House. The titles were catchy: Dope, Inc., The Hitler Book, and What Every Conservative Should Know about Communism.
Although the ultimate goals of the LaRouche network were political, the fund raising was an obsessive daily routine. Hundreds of LaRouche followers fanned out each morning to airports around the country or to the NCLC's telephone "boiler rooms" at shifting locations. While selling literature and cadging donations, their chief aim was to solicit loans (often from senior citizens) that would rarely be repaid. Potential lenders were told they would be helping a patriotic or humanitarian cause (such as SDI or research to cure AIDS) while supposedly earning a high interest rate. The weekly EIR, high-priced special reports, videocassettes, the frequent television ads in which LaRouche addressed the nation in a "presidential" manner—all were used to gain the confidence of potential lenders. The income from loans and donations was shuttled from entity to entity in a never-ending shell game to avoid creditors and the IRS, and to guarantee that the maximum funds would always be available for LaRouche's pursuit of political influence and power.
The NCLC National Executive Committee thus served not just as a general staff but also as a board of directors, with LaRouche as chairman of the board. His presidential campaigns provided a cover of constitutionally protected activity for what became an increasingly predatory financial empire. When faced with criminal and civil proceedings, he claimed "political persecution" and often sued the investigating agency or creditor for violation of his civil rights. His intelligence-gathering and propaganda networks also helped protect the financial operation by investigating the investigators and launching smear campaigns against creditors. The system was not foolproof: After 1986, dozens of LaRouche's followers were indicted for credit card and loan fraud and other offenses. In October 1988, LaRouche himself was indicted on charges of defrauding lenders of over $30 million. But his fundraisers still continued to rake in large amounts each week. (LaRouche and six top aides were convicted on fraud and conspiracy charges in December 1988.)
LaRouche's political and financial network did not end at the borders of the United States. He had created an international web that included political parties in eight countries inspired by his ideology and financed in part by his fundraising schemes. Together with the NCLC, they comprised the International Caucus of Labor Committees (ICLC). The largest branch was in West Germany, with vigorous organizations also in France, Italy, Sweden, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, and Peru--and support networks in at least a dozen other countries. Each ICLC member party had its own array of front groups. Their combined membership apart from the NCLC was no more than one thousand, but their influence in several countries was far greater than the numbers alone would suggest. Their high level of motivation, financial support from the U.S. organization, and open and covert support from military officers, government officials, or trade union leaders in countries with strong right-wing tendencies all played a role. The result was the world's best-organized, wealthiest, and ideologically most sophisticated neofascist operation of the 1980s—ruled not from the jungles of Paraguay, as in a B-grade movie, but from a country estate thirty minutes from Washington, D.C.
In 1981, the creator of this political network ruminated—in his only published work of overt fiction, a short story—about the possible circumstances under which an individual who threatens the social order can act out his dreams. There is a "fabric of social controls," LaRouche wrote, which usually restrains such individuals. These controls supposedly are based on the ability to identify and keep track of potential troublemakers "in the equivalent of some computer filing system." But what if the system "misses a problem-case with special capabilities”? Does not the "very habit of reliance on the system" become the system's main vulnerability? In LaRouche's story, a "paranoid technologist" is believed to have invented an "infernal machine" to blow up downtown Chicago. The detective-hero of the story (not surprisingly, LaRouche himself) struggles to deduce what is going on after the authorities clamp a security screen around the incident.
In the chapters that follow, we shall invert this process. We shall pierce the screen that has concealed the real story of political "technologist" Lyndon LaRouche and his potentially explosive ideology and movement. Why did society's containment system miss this "problem-case"? How did LaRouche break out of quarantine? Did powerful people know all along who and what he was, deciding simply to use him for their own purposes? Why did he remain invulnerable to prosecution for so many years? How did he inspire so much fear in those who should have led an early fight to drive him back into quarantine? This book will examine these questions as well as investigate the motives of the remarkable range of allies that LaRouche gathered along the way— hoodlums, spooks, Klansmen, mercenaries, defense scientists, political wheeler-dealers, diplomats, retired generals, New Right ideologues, foreign dictators, and White House aides. What was LaRouche's secret appeal that attracted people from both the heights and the depths of our society, and still attracts them today?
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