Investigative journalist Dennis King first encounteredLyndon LaRouche in 1968, when the future right-wing extremist, conspiracy theorist, presidential candidate and convicted felon was teaching a class on dialectical materialism, wearing rumpled flower-children clothes below a bushy beard that flowed halfway to his waist.
By the time King began working on his book-length investigation of LaRouche two decades later, the former student leader had as many as 600 full-time followers and thousands of casual supporters in the United States and around the world. His organization, which had raised an estimated $200 million, boasted close ties to political figures from Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms to Mafia and Teamster leaders and scores of individuals associated with intelligence organizations--from the CIA to the KGB, the book says.
The story of LaRouche's transformation from small-time leftist to internationally known right-wing extremist is the subject of Kingís recently published Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism, the first study exposing the full scope of LaRouche's ideological and political activity during the last twenty years. A dry, meticulously documented account of how LaRouche went about amassing more power than most mainstream politicians, the book provides a frightening look at the ease with which an ideologue can penetrate the highest levels of a democratic political system.
A total power trip
The son of orthodox Quakers who themselves had a penchant for paranoia and conspiracy theorizing, LaRouche was an early convert to radical politics. But it wasn't until the breakup of his first marriage (to Janice LaRouche, now an expert on assertiveness training for women) that LaRouche displayed a manifest desire for what King calls "total power," first on the leftist fringe and then on the right.
If there's a shortcoming to the book, itís that it fails to provide much psychological insight into LaRouche's intense hunger for power. But what the book lacks in psychological explanation it makes up for in its step-by-step exposition of how LaRouche obtained and exercised the influence he wanted.
According to Kingís account:
LaRouche began reframing his ideology in rightist terms in the early '70s, after "Operation Mop Up"--a violent, ultimately unsuccessful campaign to emerge as a leading leftist--convinced him there was little money and even fewer converts to be gained on the left. To keep from losing his followers he began introducing cult control techniques--including creating a controlled environment and encouraging disciples to inform on each other--that he had learned from a Trotskyite splinter group in the middle '60s.
He developed an elaborate theory in which Jewish financiers, the CIA, the Rockefeller family and the queen of England, among others, were conspiring to carry out a Holocaust thousands of times worse than Hitlerís. The only alternative, he told disciples, was to counterattack against this new "Nazi" force. Once Jews had been recast as Nazis, it was a small step from there to arguing that LaRouchians should ally themselves with other anti-Jewish forces--including the Ku Klux Klan, the "anti-Zionist" Liberty Lobby and other white supremacist and fascist groups.
The Grand Design
LaRouche's "Grand Design" for humanity, developed in his voluminous writings, featured a total dictatorship that ruthlessly suppressed dissenters, denied citizenship to the "bestial" masses and overwhelmingly concentrated its centralized economic resources on mobilizing for a "total war." The ultimate aim of LaRouche's proposed dictatorship was world conquest, cultural as well as political and military: The scientific soldier-citizens in his ideal republic would also be experts in Schillerís poetry, Beethoven's music and German philosophy.
"It is not necessary to wear brown shirts to be a fascist," LaRouche once wrote. "It is simply necessary to be one!"
To finance his group's political activity and develop its international contacts, LaRouche got involved in gathering and selling intelligence. By 1977, when King visited the mid-Manhattan LaRouche headquarters, the organization had banks of WATS telephone lines, state-of-the-art computers (still an expensive rarity in those days), telex machines and printing presses. King isn't sure where the organization's start-up money came from, but by that time he says much was coming from the CIA.
"LaRouche wasn't just giving them information," said the author, who has tracked LaRouche for the last 12 years, in a recent interview. "He was giving it to governments all over the world. And of course peddling intelligence is one way of gathering intelligence, because if you take the information to some Third World country, then maybe they'll give you something in return, and then you can take what they give you and peddle it to the first country's enemy."
The money LaRouche raised through such creative schemes financed political organizing all over the world. His National Caucus of Labor Committees had regional or local units in 20 American cities, and political parties in eight countries were financed in part by LaRouchian funds.
Aside from fund-raising, much of the organization's effort went into running an extensive anti-Semitic propaganda machine, King says. But LaRouchians also ran for public office (hundreds of them now hold local and state posts in the Democratic Party), got involved in organizations to promote their ideas (LaRouche played an important role in helping to popularize the concept of Star Wars, for example), and cultivated relationships with public officials as powerful as Richard Morris, right-hand man to Reagan National Security Adviser William Clark.
The extent to which LaRouche's ideas actually penetrated mainstream politics, says King, is evident in the 1986 California battle over Proposition 64. Although the LaRouchian-sponsored proposal to quarantine AIDS patients was ultimately defeated by voters, the measure--which, King points out, echoed Hitler's Mein Kampf proposal to quarantine syphilis patients--successfully reframed the mid-1980s debate about AIDS.
"People called it a 'humiliating defeat' for LaRouche," says King. "I regard it as a stunning victory: Over 2 million people voted to quarantine a hated minority--and they did it knowing the measure was sponsored by dangerous extremist Lyndon LaRouche. It showed the radical right how to make previously unacceptable ideas palatable--how gradually to make an unacceptable idea discussable and entirely conceivable."
King attributes much of LaRouche's success to the fact that the mainstream press--usually quick to condemn extremists of any stripe--completely neglected to do its job. "They would use phrases like 'conservative Democrat Lyndon LaRouche' or 'conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche'," says King. "The evidence [about LaRouche] was there all along....[But] he spoke with a cultivated accent, he used big words and his lieutenants had graduate degrees. Even today I think there's a feeling that if a [Ku Klux] Klansman does something bad, you know, heís a redneck, throw him right into prison. But if a LaRouchian does something bad, he's an unfortunate, misguided cult follower, let's give him some psychotherapy and a scholarship back to graduate school."
LaRouche ended up getting stopped not by the media (which he successfully intimidated through constant lawsuit threats) but by his own fund-raising schemes, which got him convicted last January of conspiracy, mail fraud and defrauding the IRS (he is now serving a 15-year jail sentence). But his influence, King warns, has far from diminished.
His disciples are still active raising funds and organizing among farmers and the Christian right, and their electoral activity is picking up again around the country. LaRouche, who maintains close contact with his top disciples, is running for Congress from his prison cell.
The LaRouche legacy
More importantly, argues King, the man he calls the first "truly intellectual fascist" significantly strengthened the long-term influence of right-wing ideology. He was a pioneer in developing the techniques of political cultism--"a powerful technology for harnessing human energy," King calls it--and he introduced the idea of using the Democratic primary process to run extremist candidates for public office. He also revitalized international fascism by providing it with a sophisticated and internally consistent ideology--for the first time giving right-wing ideas a powerful appeal to young people and intellectuals.
And even if LaRouchianism itself is finished as a political force, King points out, other extremists are all too likely to duplicate its success in penetrating the U.S. mainstream. "LaRouche recognized that extremist movements need crisis conditions to come to power," King says. "This society is supposed to have an immune system against extremists, but in LaRouche's case the system utterly failed to do its job.
"And if Lyndon LaRouche could go this far under conditions of relative stability," he adds, "how far could someone go under conditions of real crisis?"