Linda Ray joined the LaRouche organization in the spring of 1974 and remained a member until the summer of 1981. She was recruited in Boston and was later based in Chicago and New York. Below, in what LaRouche experts claim is the first publication of a first-person testimonial by a former LaRouche follower, Ray discusses both her life as a LaRouche disciple and her decision to leave the organization.
I was recruited into the LaRouche organization during a difficult period of my life. I found college empty and meaningless in the wake of the last wave of campus anti-war demonstrations that ended in the spring of 1972. I took a year off from school, supported myself doing clerical work and began to drink heavily.
Then one day I heard a woman talking into a bullhorn at a street corner. She introduced me to the LaRouche-run National Caucus of Labor Committees (NCLC), and my one-year's leave of absence from college turned into nine.
At the time, I thought I was involved in a legitimate political organization. But I have since come to realize that my involvement with the LaRouche people was involvement in a cult, even though the means they use to control their members is subtle.
The LaRouche organization formally consists of various business entities, several publishing arms, printing shops, pseudo-cultural or intellectual fronts—such as the National Democratic Policy Committee—from political "sectors" of the national office and "regional" and "local" centers in many cities. The LaRouche-affiliated publications include pamphlets, a small assortment of paperback books (including Dope, Inc.), the twice-weekly newspaper New Solidarity, the monthly magazine Campaigner, an elite weekly newsmagazine called Executive Intelligence Review (EIR) and Fusion, the pro-nuclear power monthly of the Fusion Energy Foundation (FEF).
These various interests are seen by members as one big organization. Yet some former members look at it as two organizations—one consisting of leaders, who are involved in questionable and secretive activities, and one consisting of naive and gullible people who really think they are doing something for the good of humanity.
At the center of the organization is Chairman LaRouche himself, the ultimate source of all orders. Next comes an elite circle of insiders: members of the National Executive Committee (NEC), who usually stay in the national headquarters.
At the next circle are National Committee (NC) members, located mostly in various "regional centers" around the country.
Then there is a body of people hopeful of rising in the hierarchy, sometimes constituted in a "regional steering committee." When I was with the LaRouche organization orders were transmitted outward from each of the circles. Sometimes more force was given to orders by borrowing authority from someone more toward the center, in "Simon says" fashion.
So instead of the usual pyramid organizational structure, where each person reports to one boss, the people in the outermost circle may sometimes have to take orders from many different people. Control is often maintained through this structure by various threats. For example, we were continually told that if fundraising quotas were not met we would lose phone lines or even our offices in regional centers and locals.
Dad and drugs
Sometimes a more personal means of control was used. Leaders exploited normal family tensions to separate LaRouche members from their parents, lovers and spouses. Two members of LaRouche's elite convinced me that my father was laundering money for the drug trade. The only "evidence" was that he was a Jewish accountant. But because I was partially hypnotized by this Pied Piper act, I unfortunately believed them.
The LaRouche organization tried to control nearly all aspects of my life. I was told which apartment to live in, when to buy a car, when to quit my job, what to read, what movies not to see, which music was o.k., how to ask my parents for $2,000 for dental work when I needed money to pay the rent, and when to split up with my boyfriend. Pregnant women were usually told to have an abortion, since having a baby would siphon off too much time and money from the organization. For those who already had children, day care was usually assigned on a haphazard basis.
Members were discouraged from the start against having a "private life." Outside classes, whether academics or sports, were strongly discouraged or forbidden. I watched as several members dropped out of high school and college after being told repeatedly that their education was "not relevant to anything real." In some cases, our hours were budgeted by an NC member so that we would not have any spare time most evenings. If we were lucky we could have one day off each week. Full-time outside jobs were highly discouraged, and pressure was put on members not to be "wage slaves." They were encouraged to procure part-time jobs instead. Pressure was sometimes put on people in other ways.
Leaders employed several methods to maintain psychological control over the membership. For example, word was once put out through the daily telex briefing messages that the FBI was raping female members of the organization. Females were ordered not to go anywhere alone. Subsequent telexes detailed how women who did not heed the warnings were assaulted. This put tremendous psychological pressure on both male and female members. Women felt imprisoned in their own houses and apartments, and men felt enslaved to be escorts and errand-runners.
A day in defense class
I remember preparing for a "defense class"—as they called it—one Sunday morning in 1974. I thought it was going to be an ordinary exercise and self-defense session. After we met at the office, I could not understand why we were taking with us a bunch of poles that were about four feet long and two inches in diameter. I was only told they were "pugil sticks." When we arrived at our destination, a desolate clearing in a wooded area, members of security checked to make sure we were not followed.
We were each handed a pole and told to run about a hundred yards with them. Then, as we stood at attention with them, we were told we were preparing for class warfare. If it became necessary we would be given rifles, but for now we were using these poles. We practiced marching in circles and did short-order drills with the poles as a member of security barked out orders in military fashion.
Since I had been brought up in the pacifist tradition of the nonviolent part of the antiwar movement, I was sure I could never hurt anyone with those poles. I considered myself "a nice Jewish girl."
We practiced forming two types of five-person squads. One, a V-formation, looked like an offensive maneuver. The other, a square formation with the biggest guy in the middle, looked like a defensive formation. If people were coming at you to attack from all sides, the squad allowed the four outside people to keep their backs toward each other in the center. If someone came at you, you were supposed to knock him down and throw him into the center. The guy in the center was supposed to finish him off with the pole.
We continued to have the defense classes for about another month, then they were discontinued for the general membership. Members of security were selected to go to "camp" for training in firearms. I never believed we were ever going to use this training. Three or four months later I found out about Operation Mop-Up.
Operation Mop-Up, a 1973 campaign to beat up other left groups, was designed to isolate NCLC members from the left. After that, no left group would have anything to do with the NCLC.
Early in my days with the organization, someone I saw on the street complained to me, "You beat people with chains!" I insisted that was ridiculous. I laughed when I reported his charge to our office later that day. Yet I stopped laughing quickly when someone told me that it was true. I was horrified, but I was already committed and isolated from my former friends and family.
I fought off my initial reaction. "We're not doing that anymore, so I guess it doesn't matter anyway," I thought. I was told that the people who were beaten were trying to start race riots. I did not ask and was not told how.
Perhaps what made people stop discussing Mop-Up in late 1973 was the issue of "brainwashing." LaRouche insisted that several of his members had been brainwashed by the CIA as part of a plot against his life. This covered up the fact that at least one of the alleged brainwash victims was a dissident member who had allegedly been held prisoner in her own apartment by the LaRouche organization. Other dissident members became fearful that if they discussed Operation Mop-Up—even among themselves—they would suffer the same fate. Many quit in an atmosphere of distrust.
It is difficult to pinpoint when LaRouche's organization changed from a left-wing group to its current extreme right-wing orientation. It was like cooking crabs: if you raise the temperature gradually enough, the crabs will never notice they're being boiled alive.
In the early to mid '70s, we had the impression that we were in a socialist organization. There was a list of strongly recommended readings that included works by such writers as Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx and Lenin, as well as by an organization favorite, Rosa Luxemburg.
I also recall a book LaRouche published in 1975 under the name Lyn Marcus called Dialectical Economics: An Introduction to Marxist Political Economy. It was a sympathetic critique and update of Marx's Das Kapital. Some LaRouche followers used to say you couldn't be a "real member" intellectually unless you read the book.
But by 1976, when LaRouche made his first run for president as the U.S. Labor Party candidate, he realized that he could not sell his left politics to American workers. The organization's right-wing shift became more distinct, though still hardly perceptible to members. In January 1977 the shift was stated more openly by a top NEC member. At the annual Strategy for Socialism conference meeting in New York City, the official asked members: "Are you ready to give up your red diapers for red, white and blue?" The speech was on the American system. We were told that philosophies of the founding fathers, and specifically Hamilton's economic policies, represented the same ideals of progress and industrialization in this country that Marx represented in Europe. Not everybody believed this immediately. Some of us thought it was merely temporary window-dressing, in the spirit of the bicentennial.
A few of us then read some of Hamilton's works. Classes were still occasionally held and study groups still existed in subjects such as history, philosophy, science and music. But the Marxist reading list was gone and the new one was not as well-defined, although it included the works of Plato and later Dante. Nothing was taught in systematic fashion any longer. Newer recruits never even knew that all the earlier Marxist and heavy metaphysical philosophy had been expected reading.
The decline in the members' ability and desire to do either detailed work or prolonged intellectual work continued over time. It was caused at least in part by more emergency mobilizations, during which hysteria, working hours and psychological pressure were all increased. People simply had less time to read or even sleep. The NEC called for canceling all classes and extending hours that members worked in their various political tasks for mobilizations. By 1979, 12-hour shifts were becoming common, and members' one day off per week was often cancelled. The January 1980 Strategy for Socialism conference held in Detroit bore little resemblance to earlier conferences. Socialist rhetoric was replaced entirely by "humanist" rhetoric. But there were increasing signs of paranoia among the leaders and excessive drunkenness in the membership, as members began showing increased strain.
In the 1980 presidential campaign, LaRouche ran for the Democratic Party nomination. But after it went to President Carter, LaRouche's lieutenants instructed members to vote for Ronald Reagan. For the benefit of the campaign, members were living on stipends of approximately $100 to $150 a week—and even these were frequently canceled.
The pace of the 1980 race did not give me much time for introspection. Instead, I was mentally preparing for yet anothër life-and-death campaign, or another mobilization against nuclear war, or another corresponding tightening of the screws on the membership. It seemed that we were constantly in a state of mobilization, our bodies filled with adrenalin, ready for fight or flight. Some people became adrenalin junkies for Lyndon LaRouche.
In late 1980 and early 1981, LaRouche became entangled in a dispute with top aide Gus Axios over the operation of the LaRouche-linked computer company Computron. The dispute sent Computron into bankruptcy and triggered Axios' resignation from the LaRouche organization. For at least six months afterward, the daily telex briefing contained LaRouche's tirades against Axios and another Computron official, which called the two ex-followers homosexual degenerates.
This Cain-and-Abel-type split at Computron started a mass exodus from the LaRouche organization. On Halloween 1981, an internal memo stated: "The following people have resigned from all LaRouche organizations..." A list of a hundred names followed, including those of both NC and ordinary members. These followers apparently had not wanted to go through the same humiliation and threats that Axios had endured.
It is my estimation that between 300 and 600 people left LaRouche's organization in 1981, probably more than any other year. I was one of those people.
I had been growing disillusioned with the organization for some time. I was beginning to see things I knew to be lies in the printed daily briefing. I was working in one of the LaRouche business entities at the time—WorldComp—and I was being paid only $116 a week, when I was being paid at all. I was tired of WorldComp's double standard, in which non-LaRouche organization employees were always paid—including for overtime—and members were paid irregularly.
One day I went to a meeting for member-employees only. It was in a small, overcrowded, underventilated room. The meeting nearly put me to sleep with a monotone briefing and the same old excuses for why we were not getting paid again. Then someone asked for a round of applause for the financial staff who had just met the nonmembers' payroll.
Suddenly, I grew more alert. I refused to applaud the fact that I wasn't being paid. But everyone else in the room—none of whom were getting paid—applauded. The applause reminded me of the bleating of the sheep at the end of Animal Farm. It was a living Orwellian nightmare. I left the organization a short time later.
Like many other people, I contacted a few former members for help when leaving the group. Like many college dropouts, I was afraid to go back to school. But, one fellow former member told me: "After all we've been through, anything else will be easy."
To this day, no former member that I know of has published a first-person narrative account. And no former members that I am aware of have let themselves be identified by name or face in any media coverage with any criticism of LaRouche. There is reason to fear retaliation. Physical threats have been made against former members, and LaRouche has put out internal memos telling current members not to talk to their former comrades, who LaRouche calls "zombies," "degenerates," "homosexuals" and agents of the FBI or KGB. Most of us are really just trying to finish school, pursue our broken careers, get married and have children, and generally put our lives back together.
But most of us have invested more than half a decade in the cult. Many followers took out bank loans in their own names to keep the organization running and spent years after leaving the cult paying back those loans. It is hard for these people to admit to themselves that all this time and money were poured into something so evil, so anti-Semitic and so criminal.
Most members and former members alike take for granted the ideas they were told to believe for all the years they were in the cult. Even after they leave, they become only physically free. To borrow from Plato: they do not question their assumptions, but sit as if chained in a cave only seeing reality in terms of flickering shadows on the wall, "the party line." They are so accustomed to viewing these flickering shadows that often they don't know how to deal with real images.
But Plato said that the people in the caves will become harmful if you try to free them and drag them into the sunlight. This is one of the things that makes LaRouche members—and perhaps former members—so dangerous.
It has been said that LaRouche followers "wear their swastikas not on their sleeves but branded in their hearts." The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith has been sued several times by the LaRouche organization for calling LaRouche followers anti-Semitic. The LaRouche organizations lost all of those suits. In one case, after numerous LaRouche documents were cited as evidence, the judge ruled that it was "fair comment to call LaRouche an anti-Semite."
Many people find it difficult to understand how Jews—such as I—could have worked for an anti-Semitic group. Perhaps the answer is that the members get so hypnotized by the simplistic "good guys and bad guys" approach to history that they do not hear what LaRouche is really saying.
For example, a 1974 edition of LaRouche's Campaigner magazine falsely reported that Britain put Hitler in power. Britain, the story said, was the initial controller of the Nazi German war machine, before it went out of control. LaRouche kept writing on that theme for many years. By 1978, he even was writing how the British were a different, "subhuman species."
Since the blasts were overtly directed against the British, Jewish members often did not recognize the subliminal anti-Semitism of the attacks. LaRouche, like the Ku Klux Klan, Hitler and Goebbels, was attacking the Rothschilds and other British-Jewish banking interests. In the wake of these anti-Semitic writings, many of us were confused. But we continued to defend LaRouche by lamely saying, "We're not anti-Semitic. So many of our members are Jews. We always say in our publications that we are against the Nazis."
I remember reading in detail about the "subhuman species" concept. Although I knew that it did not make scientific sense, I presumed that it was a deep intellectual metaphor that was over my head.
Years after I left the cult, someone drew my attention to an anti-drug pamphlet that the LaRouche organization published around 1980—one that I had often sold on street corners. In it the Jewish symbol, the Star of David, was used as a centerpiece to point to six different aspects of the illegal drug trade. In this context, the Star of David was a symbol of evil. I quickly replied to the critic, "It is just a graphics art symbol"—which I had naively thought for years. But as soon as I said it out loud I realized that I sounded ridiculous. It was as if I was waking from a nightmare.—Linda Ray
When told of Linda Ray's testimonial about the LaRouche organization, LaRouche spokeswoman Dana Scanlon offered only these words: "I am not interested in responding to lies concocted by the drug lobby."