By DENNIS KING
(Our Town, 35th anniversary edition, May 26, 2005)
On a hot afternoon in late July 1979, I sat in Our Town’s basement office on York Avenue discussing with publisher Ed Kayatt an idea for a freelance series. I wanted to take a close look at Lyndon LaRouche, an anti-Semitic cult leader with headquarters in midtown Manhattan, who appeared to be emerging as a major player on the U.S. ultra-right. Little did I or Kayatt know that we would be embarking on a seven-year odyssey that would involve multiple lawsuits, death threats, street demonstrations, national media attention and, eventually, an FBI investigation that would put LaRouche and over a dozen of his followers behind bars.
The first article (August 26, 1979) presented a summary of LaRouche’s under-the-radar political achievements and argued that his brand of anti-Semitism was far more dangerous than that of conventional swastika-wearing neo-Nazis. LaRouche, the article said, had devised sophisticated new tactics and rhetoric, and had managed to recruit educated followers.
The article attracted major attention in the Jewish community, but also elicited a sharp response from LaRouche’s minions, who issued leaflets saying it was all a plot by the “Zionists” (whom LaRouche personally vowed to “destroy” in retaliation). The LaRouche organization filed a $20 million libel suit (it would be dismissed with prejudice in 1981), visited local banks to demand that they stop allowing the distribution of our “Zionist rag” on their premises, and launched a campaign of telephone harassment, including death threats, that would continue for years.
Article after article over the following months (there would be 12 in all) outlined the LaRouche organization’s grass-roots electoral inroads from Oregon to Virginia, its ties to hoodlums, its secret control of a large Manhattan software company that serviced some of the nation’s biggest corporations (this revelation would soon result in the company filing for bankruptcy relief), its paramilitary training activities, and its links to the South African apartheid regime. Perhaps the most important article described how LaRouche was pouring massive amounts of money into an effort to gain a significant percentage of the vote for himself in the 1980 Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire.
Some of these articles had not been planned as part of the original series, but resulted from tips provided by former LaRouchians who made a beeline for our office once they realized someone was finally on the case. We also received information from LaRouche’s landlord, from a psychoanalyst who remembered LaRouche, and from two brave Teamsters Union dissidents who provided documentation that the LaRouchians were working with their local’s mobbed-up leadership. Also, we were sent a hefty package with no return address that contained the general ledger of a LaRouche-controlled business.
The series attracted national attention, and The New York Times did a two-part front-page series that not only confirmed our findings but uncovered things we’d missed. When newspapers in New Hampshire took heed, LaRouche’s dreams of winning a large percentage of the primary vote faded.
Over the next few years, Our Town ran frequent editorials calling for action against LaRouche. It also continued with news articles, focusing as much as possible on the neighborhood angle. In 1982, it reported that LaRouche had moved into a townhouse on Sutton Place with his bodyguards. When the Jewish War Veterans, including Kayatt, picketed in front of the residence, it was the final straw for Der Abscheulicher (the Abominable One), as LaRouche had called himself. He decided to start looking for new headquarters in Virginia.
His followers, however, continued to harass Our Town by sending imposters to its office and by circulating literature claiming Kayatt was a mobster and I was a drug dealer.
Our Town also provided ongoing help on the LaRouche story to the national media. In 1984, Our Town managing editor Kalev Pehme, Kayatt and myself cooperated with NBC-TV producer Patricia Lynch on an expose for “First Camera.” Lynch’s brilliant investigating revealed for the first time that LaRouche had established high-level contacts in the Reagan administration. The White House promptly put an end to the relationship.
Although LaRouche continued to make electoral gains around the country (in 1986 followers of his won the Democratic primary nominations for Lt. Governor. and Secretary of State in Illinois), his downfall was already looming. Our Town had run a story in 1985 about how his fundraisers had ripped off an elderly woman in New Jersey; unfortunately, we did not yet know that the LaRouche organization was running similar scams on well-to-do seniors from Alaska to Florida.
The FBI began to investigate, and in 1986 over 200 federal, state and local law enforcement officers raided LaRouche’s headquarters in Virginia. LaRouche was indicted along with about 25 of his followers. More than a dozen (including a former KKK grand dragon) were sent to prison on various charges. LaRouche himself ended up serving five years for loan fraud and income tax evasion.
LaRouche’s organization still exists, but it has never recovered the broad appeal it enjoyed briefly in the mid-1980s. LaRouche is 84 years old now, still dreams of seizing power-and still curses the name of a community weekly called Our Town.