Commentary Magazine

Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism, by Dennis King

The Extremist

Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism.
by Dennis King.
Doubleday. 415 pp. $19.95.

Twenty years ago Lyndon LaRouche was teaching classes in dialectical materialism at the New York Free School, preparing members of the left-wing Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) to seize political power. Today he is notorious as a right-wing extremist and is serving a fifteen-year jail sentence for fraud and conspiracy. In the interim, he conducted a mind-boggling ride through the American political landscape. Dennis King, in the first full examination of LaRouche’s extensive political empire, has unearthed fascinating details about the origins, structure, financial activities, and philosophy of that extraordinary organization.

Lyndon LaRouche’s journey to the far Right was a circuitous one. Born in New Hampshire in 1922 into a conservative Quaker family, he came into contact with leftist radicals while serving in a conscientious-objector camp during World War II. In 1948 he joined the Trotskyist Socialist Workers party and remained in that tiny sect until 1966, learning such valuable political lessons as how to “isolate and publicly degrade dangerous individuals” in one’s own organization, break them psychologically, and then use them.

Inspired by the New Left upsurge of the mid-1960’s, LaRouche became a guru to radical students in New York, gaining influence among members of Columbia University’s SDS chapter, particularly those involved with the Maoist Progressive Labor party. As SDS disintegrated late in the decade, LaRouche’s National Caucus of Labor Committees (NCLC) grew. By 1973, when it had 600 members, LaRouche launched Operation Mop-Up, a campaign to establish his hegemony on the Left by physically attacking members of the Communist party and other left-wing groups.

The thuggery of the NCLC went hand-in-hand with psychological terror aimed at its own members. LaRouche initiated “ego-stripping” sessions to remove inner doubts harbored by members. These meetings, at which people were humiliated and degraded in front of their comrades, were also linked to what became known as the “Great Manchurian Candidate” scare. LaRouche was convinced of the existence of a CIA-KGB brainwashing operation designed to assassinate him, and frantic cadres were now compelled to worry about whether they had been covertly programmed to perform the task.

By the mid-1970’s, the devoted hard-core members still remaining in the cult were ready to follow wherever LaRouche led. That proved to be away from Marxism and toward an alliance with the neofascist and anti-Semitic Right. Arguing that the main enemy of mankind was the Rockefeller family, LaRouche was soon also denouncing Zionists and meeting with Willis Carto of the anti-Semitic Liberty Lobby. Almost one-quarter of NCLC members were Jews, but they were presumably able to swallow his defense of Nazi war criminals, praise for all things German, and attacks on Judaism (as a fossilized religion glorifying usury), Jews (as carriers of a “cholera culture” and “intellectual pus”), and Israel (as a nation following policies “a hundred times worse than Hitler”).

King argues 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 deed, he was a serious ideologue in the classic European fascist mold.” Yet LaRouche’s ideological fantasies—based on the notion that he and his cadre were the core of a Neoplatonio humanism which over the centuries had been locked in battle with the forces of oligarchy once headquartered in Babylon—are far less significant than the issue of how such an extremist could go as far as he did.

And he did go far. Championing the development of fusion energy and the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) long before they became matters of public debate, LaRouche was able to recruit scientists and government bureaucrats into such front groups as the Fusion Energy Foundation. While some supporters of SDI (like Generals Keegan and Graham) refused to have any dealings with him, others were not so fastidious. As King notes, LaRouche appealed to scientists and engineers by defending their interests, attacking environmentalists, providing useful technical information and gossip, and cultivating personal contacts. “LaRouche built up a pool of influential people, whom he had compromised, and who thus had a vested interest in downplaying his extremism to avoid embarrassment to themselves.”

Similar techniques enabled LaRouche to build an extensive intelligence network. Organized along the lines of a news-gathering service, it was based on careful reading and clipping of the foreign-language press, cultivation of sources among academics, newsmen, and law-enforcement personnel, and incessant telephone calls sharing information. Unlike the members of many cults, LaRouche’s recruits often came from elite universities and included individuals with analytical skills and writing talent. Thus, his “newsmen” were able to convince scores of foreign politicians and public figures to speak with them. They were aided by a more appreciative market abroad for some of LaRouche’s conspiracy theories, as well as Third-World support for LaRouche’s attacks on the International Monetary Fund and proposals to repudiate foreign debt. Top officials in the CIA, including Admiral Bobby Inman, also met with LaRouche and praised the political intelligence developed by his organization.

LaRouche’s contacts with the CIA and law-enforcement agencies convinced some left-wing conspiracy buffs that he was a government agent. King, although critical of those government employees who did deal with LaRouche, dispels the notion that he was part of some sinister CIA plot. After all, LaRouche’s operatives also had contacts with the KGB; Fusion Energy Foundation scientists prepared reports for the Soviets on the American scientific community; and New Solidarity, the LaRouche newspaper, defended Soviet spies.



King shrewdly documents the way LaRouche used his members’ own money both to support his organization and to bind them to it more closely. Initially, he argues, most of the NCLC’s money came from the members themselves. After turning over their own funds they were encouraged to cadge money from their families, borrow to the limit on their credit cards, and take out bank loans and turn the proceeds over to the NCLC. There was never any intention of repaying these loans. Members were moved frequently from city to city, lived communally, and had no assets to seize if they were ever located.

The process compromised the membership morally. Having cheated their own families and welshed on personal debts, they had few qualms about fleecing senior citizens or gulling professionals into loaning money in the belief they were aiding the Reagan revolution or helping to develop fusion energy. The NCLC stiffed vendors, engaged in massive credit-card fraud, and operated high-pressure boiler-rooms. But its greatest resource was its cadres. Using their considerable skills, LaRouche built successful businesses providing computer services and software for large companies.

Such organizational skills also enabled the NCLC to master the intricacies of election law and recruit hundreds of candidates for public office, many of whom won substantial shares of the Democratic vote in primary elections. Few of these political neophytes were NCLC members. Yet in 1986, two who were in fact members startled the country when they won Democratic nominations for Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State in Illinois, prompting gubernatorial candidate Adlai Stevenson to withdraw from the Democratic-party ticket.



How was LaRouche able to get away with it?

King frequently criticizes the media for not denouncing LaRouche more often, more loudly, and more accurately. By focusing on some of LaRouche’s weirder activities and statements—for instance, he branded Queen Elizabeth as a drug pusher—the media, King complains, helped transform LaRouche from a dangerous fanatic into an amusing eccentric. King castigates newspapers for their reluctance to call LaRouche a fascist, and he condemns the timidity of journalists worried about the libel suits LaRouche filed whenever he was displeased by a story.

Many of these complaints are on the mark. LaRouche’s aggressive litigiousness no doubt did act as a deterrent. Although his group never won a libel suit, he made it expensive to attack him. The Anti-Defamation League, his principal organizational antagonist, was sued four times. But the monetary was not the only cost of fighting LaRouche. The LaRouche organization was so vicious and reckless that those who incurred its wrath—Henry Kissinger, for example—faced not only personal harassment but widespread dissemination of the most vile smears and innuendos about their personal lives. Still, King’s charge that even in the late 1980’s LaRouche “continued to enjoy a remarkable degree of immunity from public criticism” is refuted by the many examples of such criticism in his own book.

King comes closer to the source of the problem when he observes that “American journalists are generally unaccustomed to dealing with the subtleties of extremist ideology.” This point should have been developed. Journalists understand extremists with guns or hoods; they will cover the Ku Klux Klan or a violent left-wing group that brandishes weapons and issues bloodcurdling threats. Their eyes glaze over, however, when confronted by ideological extremists like the Communist party or the NCLC who use more peaceful techniques to gain influence.

King also blames Jewish groups for not combating LaRouche more vigorously, charging that “none of the major Jewish organizations spoke out” during and after the LaRouche assault on Kissinger. In fact, however, as already noted, the Anti-Defamation League has long been one of LaRouche’s foremost opponents. King also taxes Jewish groups for failing to denounce their co-religionist Melvin Klenetsky, LaRouche’s candidate for mayor of New York in 1981. But these organizations face severe strictures on their ability to intervene in political campaigns; they risk the loss of their tax-exempt status.

More outrageous is King’s unsupported slur that “in effect, many [Jewish groups] had acquiesced in the new dogma of neo-conservatives; it’s okay to ally oneself with fascists against the main enemy, the Left.” King of all people should know better. Some figures in the intelligence community and the scientific world did cooperate with LaRouche out of ignorance, naivete, stupidity, or some shared values. That is to their discredit. The vast majority of conservatives, however, would have nothing to do with him, and a number of neoconservatives participated actively in the effort to expose him.

In King’s estimate, LaRouche surpassed the “achievements of any other extremist movement in recent American history.” In one limited sense King is correct—no other extremist group has been able so rapidly to raise such vast amounts of money (perhaps $200 million over the last decade) or build so extensive a political network. Yet LaRouche has established no permanent footholds in American institutions. None of his candidates has been elected to any significant position. Respectable politicians regard him as anathema.

By contrast, working more quietly and less flamboyantly, the American Communist party has created front groups that include the names of members of Congress, labor leaders, and prominent black politicians. Gus Hall recently boasted that, running under other party labels, Communists have been winning election to political office. The CPUSA, however, gets far less searching attention from the media than Lyndon LaRouche.

The enemies of democracy are not liberals or conservatives. They are extremists, whether of the Right or the Left. Despite its flaws, King’s detailed study is a powerful reminder of the importance of identifying those enemies and isolating them from decent company.



About the Author

Harvey Klehr is Andrew W. Mellon professor of politics and history at Emory University.

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