In the fringe world of conspiracy theorists, Lyndon LaRouche is a legend. A recently released biography by LaRouche watcher Dennis King cuts through the haze of pseudo-intellectual mumbo-jumbo to reveal the madness in the method of the grand manipulator and current jailbird.
The story begins with the young LaRouche's "Orthodox" Quaker upbringing. LaRouche's parents were far from traditional Friends. They were narrow-minded, bigoted, separatists whose creed was little more than a crude anti-communism.
Given this background, it is not surprising that when LaRouche finally rebelled, he joined the Socialist Workers Party, a Trotskyist group. King believes LaRouche moved easily from the religious sectarianism of his parents to the political sectarianism which defined his adult life. It is too bad King doesn't spend more time analyzing how his parents' fanaticism served to shape his own conspiratorial zealotry.
In 1966, Lyn Marcus (LaRouche's Trotskyist nom de guerre), was booted out of the SWP after having spent 17 years in the organization. Since leaving the left for richer feeding grounds on the right, LaRouche has stated that during his time as a red he was actually an FBI snitch. This is not beyond the realm of possibility. The SWP was a prime target for J. Edgar Hoover's COINTELPRO illegalities. LaRouche would later surround himself with government informants like former Pennsylvania Klan Grand Dragon Roy Frankhouser, who snooped for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; and the late Mitch WerBell, LaRouche's security advisor and a long-time CIA mercenary.
LaRouche played his role in the tumult of the late 1960s counterculture, anti-war rebellions. He taught Marxist theory at the Free University of New York and wormed his way into Students for a Democratic Society. As with his time in the SWP, LaRouche would later claim that he agreed to "penetrate" and "neutralize" SDS to undermine growing leftism on college campuses. King dismisses LaRouche's self-serving revisionism as an attempt to ease the suspicions of some of his rightist friends.
In 1968, shortly after his official ouster from SDS, LaRouche announced the formation of the National Caucus of Labor Committees (NCLC), which had existed unofficially even while he was mucking about with SDS. The NCLC would later become the main political action arm of the LaRouche cult. From the beginning it was clear that the Caucus would be unique among the panoply of leftist sects. It was obsessed with grand conspiracy theories and with the passage of time, the imagined plotters would come to include innumerable names and organizations. The NCLC also began developing its own form of communication--an Orwellian newspeak which helped the continuing coalescence and fortification of the LaRouche cult.
Following the launching of "Operation Mop Up" in 1973, the NCLC was viewed with outright hatred as a burgeoning band of fascist stormtroopers. Mop Up, as LaRouche announced in a front-page editorial in the NCLC's publication, New Solidarity, was designed to "pulverize the communist party." The operation was carried out by squads of LaRouche followers who attacked CP gatherings in bloody pipe-and-club-swinging confrontations.
Operation Mop Up isolated the NCLC, strengthening the cultic character of the group. The operation also weeded out those considered wishy-washy or disturbed by having to carry out violence for LaRouche. He knew an absolute dictator needed to have absolute faith in the fanaticism of his followers. LaRouche's early dabbling in extremist politics, culminating in Operation Mop Up, makes for some of the most fascinating parts of Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism. The crackling atmosphere of campus revolt, and LaRouche's early thriving in such an environment, are described in engrossing detail.
To further increase the isolation and paranoia of his followers, and to guarantee their continued loyalty, LaRouche began using cruel mind games called "ego stripping." Used by anti-drug cults like the now-defunct Synanon, ego stripping was designed to break the member's self-esteem and his or her will to resist. This sinister goal was achieved by subjecting the devotee to intensive group abuse until the victim would emotionally break down. These sessions took place in the midst of artificially manufactured hysterias surrounding CIA assassination plots against LaRouche and his automatons.
When LaRouche began making overtures to the extreme right in the mid-1970s, he was faced with a challenge. Jewish members occupied many positions of prominence in his organization, and the anti-Semitism of the ultraright troubled them. The NCLC began playing word games in order to alleviate the angst of his high-level followers. Jews, according to LaRouche, were divided into "real" and "non-real" factions. Real Jews, he said, were anti-Zionist, and opposed to the alleged machinations of Kissinger, the Rothschilds, and B'nai B'rith because they were all involved in plans to usher in a "new dark age"--a Nazi dark age.
Therefore, in LaRouche's convoluted thinking, to oppose non-real Jews was to be anti-Nazi; to be anti-Semitic was to be a Judeophile. The Klan, the Liberty Lobby and other overtly neo-Nazi groups were really a Jew's best friends. And Jewish Nazis, perhaps the most insidious thing a person could be, deluded themselves into believing that they were really Jewish patriots.
King's descriptions of how cults like LaRouche's manipulate their members are excellent. How LaRouche was able to obtain complete control over the reasoning of his followers is important in understanding both cultism and totalitarianism. For this reason, King's book is an important psychological as well as political text. LaRouche was able to meld the political and psychological, creating an organization far more powerful than his lunatic ideas would otherwise sustain. He was indeed mad, but savvy.
Like other cult leaders, LaRouche realized that one quick way to gain public support was to attack the illicit drug trade, feared and loathed by "legitimate" society. To identify himself as an anti-narcotics crusader, LaRouche established the National Anti-Drug Coalition and published a 500-page tome entitled Dope, Inc. The campaign gained LaRouche's followers speaking engagements in schools and churches across the country. But even as his anti-drug project was in high gear, LaRouche was working with Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who allegedly used the power of his office to smuggle major cocaine shipments into the United States.
As the various LaRouche organizations descended deeper and, deeper into madness, they gained wider and wider acceptance outside the political fringe. LaRouche began courting scientists through his Fusion Energy Foundation, one of a myriad of front groups he set up. The FEF pushed hard for the adoption of Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative as part of their "beam weapons" program. As was the case with his drug campaign, LaRouche was several steps ahead of White House strategists.
He began burrowing deeper into the establishment, wooing the very agencies which helped maintain its power. High on the list was the CIA, the very same CIA which had previously (or so he charged) plotted with Kissinger and the Rockefellers to kill him. The agency became interested in the strange neo-Nazi cult leader because it was an undisputed fact that the NCLC ran one of the most elaborate and efficient private intelligence operations in the world.
LaRouche's people passed on "reams" of intelligence information to the CIA; King hypothesizes that LaRouche had snuggled up to the CIA as security in case he was ever indicted for any of his patently illegal activities, allowing him to claim that he was "working for the Agency."
It took the nomination of two LaRouchites in the 1986 Illinois Democratic primary for lieutenant governor and secretary of state to sound the alarms. LaRouche himself had been a consistent presidential candidate before his indictment for tax and credit card fraud and, in 1980, had launched the National Democratic Policy Committee (NDPC) as a vehicle for grabbing control within the party. The NDPC worked with the determination of fanatics for their candidates. In the failing farmlands his people pushed the traditional populist conspiracy theories so attractive in hard times, and with each election LaRouche candidates picked up more and more support. Nazism was making inroads in Reagan country and nobody seemed to care until the Illinois shocker of 1986.
LaRouche's 1988 incarceration was proof to his followers of the conspiracies he so often warned them about. LaRouche was even seen as a martyr by the likes of former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who offered to be his counsel.
There are numerous lessons to be learned from King's biography of the would-be great man. The most obvious is that unchecked fanaticism can grow in times of stress. The U.S. media, supposedly established as democracy's watchdog, shut its eyes to an ugly growth on the body politic. It took the sight of Nazis a short step away from two powerful positions in Illinois to awaken the Fourth Estate.
But there were other failures as well. Jewish organizations were quick to point out the relationship between Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan, but neglected to raise the issue of the much more ominous connections between LaRouche and high-ranking Reagan bureaucrats. Law enforcement agencies were slow to move against LaRouche early in his criminal career, and the Democratic Party was far from diligent in dealing with the LaRouchites as they stomped about under the party's banner.
King's book is an important document about cruelty and meanness, cowardice and ignorance, creativity and insanity. For nearly two decades LaRouche built his power-base upon the complicity of prominent people who let themselves be used in exchange for a free trip or an intelligence report. And he used his craziness like a mathematician working out some complex theorem. When the results didn't jive with the equations, he simply changed the answers. The answers were gospel in the crazy world of Lyndon LaRouche--unchallengeable until reversed at his whim.
As King's book proves, the only tonic for fanaticism is clear thinking. With the election of white supremacist David Duke to the Louisiana legislature, it is obvious that the danger has not passed with the downfall of LaRouche. That is why Dennis King's book is a must read.