Mention the name Lyndon LaRouche at a cocktail party and witness the response: Eyes roll, heads shake, jokes fly and the cries of "wacko, wacko!" echo like the duck calls of the intelligentsia.
Mention the name Lyndon LaRouche to investigative journalist Dennis King and you get a far more serious, reasoned and highly unsettling response.
With persistence bordering on obsession, King has spent the last decade of his life dogging Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. and his minions and documenting their beliefs, strategies and techniques. King believes that the eye rollers--particularly those in the media--are missing something very scary when they dismiss LaRouche's thinly cloaked (and sometimes uncloaked) fascism as the ravings of a megalomaniac.
King's new book, Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism (Doubleday, $19.95), is densely packed with analysis of LaRouche's methods and evidence that the man is not merely a bizarre eccentric but a true political player--a man who, as King puts it, has "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."
In short, says King: A nasty virus is undermining America's political immune system, and LaRouche is a prime carrier.
These days, the 66-year-old LaRouche is serving time in a federal correctional facility for tax evasion and conspiracy to commit loan fraud. He is appealing his conviction and granting scores of interviews from prison. He is still powerful, warns King, who believes that when LaRouche's power wanes there will be plenty of "brilliant, talented" people to take up the cause.
It's a cause that employs confusing, mixed-message rhetoric, says King, but is fundamentally anti-Semitic and racist. LaRouche is quick to label others, the author notes, but disdains labels for himself. The LaRouche quote King chose to open his book tells the story: "It is not necessary to wear brown shirts to be a fascist....It is not necessary to wear a swastika to be a fascist....It is not necessary to call oneself a fascist to be a fascist. It is simply necessary to be one!"
King's fascination with the man who began as a far-left Trotskyist and ended up a fascist started more than a decade ago, when he first observed LaRouche's power for himself.
"I had friends I'd known around Columbia University in 1968 who had joined LaRouche when he was part of the New Left," recalls King. "Several of these friends were Jewish, and when LaRouche moved into anti-Semitism in the middle 1970s, I was thoroughly puzzled as to why these people, who I remembered as being level-headed, intelligent and emotionally stable, stayed with him. I had to know what this was about."
And so he began looking into LaRouche's growing organization--and was increasingly amazed at what he found.
"In 1977, I went to LaRouche's offices in lower Manhattan," King says. "They had three and a half floors of a factory building that must have carried an astronomical rent; they had computers in there--which, in 1977, was a big deal--and Teletype machines and banks of WATS line phones. They had well over 100 people in there working full-time on intelligence-gathering tasks. LaRouche had set up his own parallel CIA.
"I wondered where the money was coming from; it was obvious that this was taking millions of dollars a year, and they weren't making that kind of cash by going out and selling their little radical paper on street corners.
"What was this guy up to? I began looking into his ideology. I went to a man who was a longtime leader of the Conservative Party in New York; he had made quite a study of anti-Semitism and with him I had one of the most eye-opening afternoons of my life. He kept pulling down books by anti-Semitic writers from his shelves and showing me exactly where LaRouche had picked up various ideas. It was then that I realized this stuff was far more virulent than it appears on the surface.
"At first I didn't believe what I'd heard--that he could really be making inroads into the American electoral process and that he was really linked to all these influential people. It was too absurd. But once you've called 50 state boards of elections and found out the statistics are true; once you've called a dozen Teamsters leaders and politicians and found out that, yes, LaRouche has met with them, it begins to sink in.
"In 1979, I wrote my first series about LaRouche [for the Manhattan weekly Our Town]. At that time, I wrote that they had broken out of quarantine and were doing some alarming things. But if you told me that within five years LaRouche would have access to the highest levels of the National Security Council, would be running more than 2,000 candidates for public office in the Democratic primary and would be raking in $30 million a year--as he did in 1984--I would have said you were crazy. I would not have believed it."
Most of the American media, says King, didn't believe it--or want to believe it--either.
"They regarded him as a kook," says King. "The fear of libel suits was definitely a factor. But I don't think the American media are lacking in guts; the main problem was the perception that Lyndon LaRouche simply wasn't worth it, that he was a wacko. So why cover him?"
LaRouche and his followers were, indeed, regarded as little more than pernicious oddities by the press. In Chicago, however, one startling event snapped the media to attention--at least for a while. On March 18, 1986, two LaRouchies--as they quickly came to be called--won the Democratic nominations for Illinois lieutenant governor and secretary of state.
Suddenly, the media had no choice but to take these "wackos" seriously. Janice Hart, the new 31-year-old nominee for secretary of state, informed the local press that she wanted to "revive the spirit of Abraham Lincoln and Gen. [George S.] Patton. We're going to roll our tanks down State Street."
King points out that on primary night, the LaRouchians, as he refers to them, were just as stunned as everybody else by their victories. They couldn't watch the returns because they were "too busy conducting a mock exorcism in front of the home of University of Chicago Professor Mircea Eliade," who they claimed was an evil warlock, he writes.
The LaRouchians' bizarre antics just appear to be thus, King argues. He believes they're often clever, premeditated camouflages to mask a neo-Nazi message aimed at those primed to hear it.
"LaRouche has developed an elaborate smoke screen," says King. "Many of the people who have actually run for office under his aegis aren't clear on what it is he stands for."
There's little doubt that LaRouche is slippery. But is he, as the conventional wisdom would have it, a certified kook?
"People always tell me LaRouche is a kook," says King. "I have a standard answer to that: In California, this kook got 700,000 people to sign a petition to put a segment of their fellow citizens [AIDS victims] in concentration camps. And then that kook went out and got two million people to vote in favor of it. He actually managed to desensitize the public to the idea of concentration camps. People started talking about it; because of LaRouche, it became part of the legitimate marketplace of ideas. To me, that's stunning.
"I believe LaRouche knows he's crazy, but he knows how to use his craziness," adds King. "I have seen him play crazy; I sat across from him at depositions where he didn't want to answer the questions the attorneys were asking. [King was a co-defendant in a libel case against NBC in 1984.] He ran circles around the network's expensive corporate attorneys.
"He kept this little smirk on his face while he talked about the Queen of England being a drug pusher and all that. And he would call me a drug pusher, too, and then look over and wink at me. It was clear that he knew I knew it was all a game."
A dangerous game at that: In the 10 years King spent researching LaRouche and his cronies, he suffered extreme personal harassment at their hands.
"It started in 1979, when I first published stories about him," recalls King. "They went after me nonstop through 1984. I'd say there were at least 1,000 hang-up phone calls. Sometimes they would tell me they were going to beat my brains out with a baseball bat. They called up my girlfriend and told her she could find me in the basement refrigeration unit. They followed me around the streets. Someone smashed up the offices of Our Town, the paper in which I first published the LaRouche stories, then poured acid over the wreckage. Nobody else had a motive to do that.
"They found out where my father, a man in his 80s, lived and went after him with poison pen letters and threatening phone calls. They passed out leaflets in my apartment building accusing me of all sorts of sexual and political misdeeds. LaRouche even bought time on a local Manhattan radio station, and every half hour his voice would come on and warn everyone that Dennis King, a freelance journalist living in Manhattan, was a drug pusher. Some of it was comic opera, but some was very nerve-wracking.
"Why did I continue [to look into LaRouche's dealings]? It just kept building. I was compelled to know what made this brilliant, tragic man work.
"The one thing I want to make clear is that I bear no personal ill will toward Lyndon LaRouche. I think he is a tragic case--not because I feel sorry for him, but because I feel sorry that he was unable to use his talents for the good. Here is a man with a magnificent intellect. He could have been a brilliant statesman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist. He could have done a lot of good for America. He could have had all the recognition he wanted legitimately. And instead he was warped somewhere in childhood and ended up giving American neo-Nazis a full-blown ideology."
That ideology is scarier--and far more pervasive--than the man himself, warns King:
"In 1988, David Duke [the former Ku Klux Klan wizard and head of the National Association for the Advancement of White People who was recently elected to a state representative's seat in Louisiana] followed LaRouche's tactics to the letter. He is part of LaRouche's legacy already, and that is perhaps the most frightening thing to consider."
For now, King says he's done considering LaRouche, except while promoting his new book. His agent is shopping around with another book he wrote during his "LaRouche years"; it is, appropriately enough, a treatise on investigative reporting.
He's happy to be thinking about other things, he says, but he realizes that the expertise he has gained on his subject will make it hard to ever really break free.
"Once you learn so much about any one thing, you sort of have an obligation to keep up with it because people look to you for imformation," he says. "The most important thing is this: I have faith in the American people, and that's why it's so important to bring what Lyndon LaRouche stands for out into the open.
"I believe that once Americans truly understand, they will reject him. I just want to help them understand."