Lyndon LaRouche

Lyndon LaRouche, 1922–2019

Friday A/V Club: The death of a charmless kook


U.S. Labor Party

Ordinarily I'm fond of cranks, maybe excessively so. You say extremist; I say charmingly kooky freethinker. You say cult; I say fascinating young religion. You say lunatic conspiracy theory; I say spooky new addition to America's homegrown mythology. But even my tolerance has its limits, and one of those limits is Lyndon LaRouche.

LaRouche, who died Tuesday at age 96, was a despicable old fraud, and the warmest feeling I've ever been able to conjure for his devotees is pity. Fiercely authoritarian in both his political ideals and his personal life, LaRouche fed his followers a stream of lies, psychological abuse, and paranoid fantasies. Those fantasies featured a big cast of villains, from the queen of England to Aristotle to "Dope, Inc." to gay people, not to mention whichever follower or ex-follower was the designated scapegoat of the moment. One such scapegoat, Ken Kronberg, committed suicide after the denunciations turned his way.

LaRouche didn't limit his abuse to the people who chose to cast their lot with him. He aimed it outwards too—most infamously during "Operation Mop-Up," when his followers in several cities used fists, bats, chains, and nunchuks to attack members of the Communist Party and other leftist groups. When those assaults began in 1973, LaRouche considered himself a part of the radical left; Operation Mop-Up, he hoped, would establish his "hegemony" over the competition. But a few years later he was aligning himself with Klansmen and the far-right Liberty Lobby. He had a habit of flipping positions like that.

He also had a habit of running for president—first as the 1976 nominee of the U.S. Labor Party, then as a recurring contender for the Democratic nomination. His biggest successes came in the North Dakota primary of 1992 and the Michigan primary of 2000, when he managed to outpoll everyone else on the ballot. This sounds less impressive when you learn that (a) in both cases, for quirky reasons, none of the major candidates were actually on the ballot, and (b) LaRouche still managed to lose both primaries. In North Dakota he was beaten handily by some write-in votes for Ross Perot, and in Michigan he was outvoted by "uncommitted."

National Democratic Policy Committee

Most people's direct encounters with LaRouchism came in one of two ways. The first was to stumble on one of the candidate's prime-time infomercials, in which he'd inform viewers that Walter Mondale is a Soviet agent, that the government should "quarantine" people with AIDS, or whatever other idea had caught his fancy at the moment. (LaRouche pushed his AIDS idea with a front group called—I swear I am not making this up—PANIC, for the Prevent AIDS Now Initiative Committee.) The second was to run into his followers as they handed out literature in public places. My most memorable encounter with LaRouchie leafletters was in Ann Arbor in the early '90s, where they had made a big sign that said "EATING ARAB BABIES ISN'T KOSHER." (I've heard people call LaRouche a "coded" anti-Semite. In that case you didn't have to work hard to crack the code.)

Yet LaRouche and his circle occasionally entered, or at least wandered near, places of power. Dixy Lee Ray, Democratic governor of Washington from 1977 to 1981, later took to touting the LaRouchite magazine 21st Century Science & Technology. ("I'm not interested in their politics," she told environmental writer David Helvarg, "but they're doing some of the best work on cold fusion and other technologies frozen out by the science establishment.") And in the '80s they hung around the edges of the Reagan administration, trying to find ways to build influence. In 1984, Dennis King and Ronald Radosh reported in The New Republic that LaRouche's people had "gained repeated access to a wide range of Administration officials—including high-level aides at the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency." (LaRouche himself scored a meeting with Interior Secretary James Watt, though he apparently didn't make a good impession. Watt told The New Republic that LaRouche "used all the right words, but you instinctively felt something was off.") Former National Security Council staffer Norman Bailey insisted to NBC that LaRouche had "one of the best private intelligence services in the world"; he later reiterated the thought to The Washington Post, declaring that LaRouche's operatives "can operate more freely and openly than official agencies." They also operated more freely when it came to making shit up, but I guess they told Bailey what he wanted to hear.

The LaRouche Democratic Campaign

In 1989 LaRouche went to prison for fraud, and he spent five years behind bars before he was paroled. After that, he and his followers were less likely to get meetings with Washington officials (though Roger Stone was flirting with him recently—and another ex-governor, Jesse Ventura, became a LaRouche fan). But his former followers sometimes did well for themselves. Matthew Sweet's recent book Operation CHAOS notes that a fellow named Clifford Gaddy managed to hop from the LaRouche world to the Brookings Institution, where he co-wrote a book on Putin with future Trump advisor Fiona Hill. (I should probably note that Sweet thinks it possible that Gaddy had been spying on the LaRouchies for the feds all along.) And there are journalists on both the left (Robert Dreyfuss) and the right (David "Spengler" Goldman) who spent time in LaRouche's orbit before heading off in their own directions.

Below I've embedded one of LaRouche's half-hour campaign broadcasts. It's from March 1988. The opening strives mightily to present the LaRouche movement as a rising tide, and the man who introduces the candidate hits such familiar LaRouchie notes as accusing the British royal family of "involvement in dope trafficking" and claiming that Moscow has declared LaRouche "Soviet enemy #1." When LaRouche himself comes on, about halfway through the program, he rambles through his economic proposals before presenting his ideas about AIDS. "You've been told that AIDS is a venereal disease," he warns. "I tell you without quibbling that what most of you heard from official sources is an outright lie….All the talk about safe sex is simply a propaganda stunt."

There are LaRouche TV specials that consist of nothing but LaRouche himself talking, but I didn't want to inflict one of those on you. You know why? Because when he's not saying something utterly crazy, the man is boring. Lyndon LaRouche was a child of the American Weird, but he was too dull to excel even at raving like a lunatic.

Bonus video: If you don't have the patience to sit through that, here's a quick snippet from the '84 campaign where LaRouche lays out the mysterious forces manipulating Mondale:

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For another installment involving LaRouche, go here.)

NEXT: Brickbat: Next Time Get an English Muffin

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    1. Yeah, I can’t help but suspect that these technologies were “frozen out by the scientific establishment” due to the minor fact that no one could prove they actually worked. If you could produce a fusion reactor that provably produced more power than it consumed, I’m pretty sure the scientific establishment would be all over that.

      1. You can be frozen out by the sci. est. by having promising or at least suggestive results but not being able to get funding to develop it into provable stuff. If you already have stuff that’s proven, you don’t need the establishment’s help, but that’s the last stage. Most of them never get to that stage, but they need $ to find out which of them eventually does, & to get the $ you need scientists to convince the people controlling the $.

  1. One of Mondale’s two owners is the grain cartel? That’s a new one to me.

    LaRouche was one of those rambling lunatics I just ignored. I probably learned that quite a few times, each time he’d make waves enough to appear in public, as he has apparently done this time by dying; it will probably be his last, so there’s that going for him, as he will be increasingly brought up as a trivia answer and morph into “that kooky old nut” and eventually reside in footnotes to 20th century history books along with similar snake oil salesmen from the 19th century who wanted to extend the Erie Canal to the Pacific.

    1. Hey now! Building a giant aqueduct from the great lakes to the southwest is a legit idea… Why not just make it a little bigger so it can take container ships and go all the way to the pacific while we’re at it?

  2. LaRouche isn’t dead. That’s just a story being put out by the Venetians and the Queen to cover up the progress that LaRouche is making in the 2020 campaign for President. They just won’t stop because they know he’s about to blow their attempted mind control over the population to smithereens.

    1. …their attempted mind control over the population to smithereens.

      True dat!

      *dons tin-foil hat*

  3. LaRouche, who died Tuesday at age 96, was a despicable old fraud, and the warmest feeling I’ve ever been able to conjure for his devotees is pity.

    Don’t hold back, tell us how you really feel.

  4. My first experience with LaRouche-ism was as an undergraduate seeing some of their cultists on campus handing out literature. It was all nutty then and, I suppose, it was nutty for the entire time.

    1. You were at Columbia?

  5. My encounters w LaRouchism came in what was the major way at the time: being at Columbia U. in the early 1970s.

    I think all his life he was laughing up his sleeve at his cult. I don’t think Lyndon Adolf H. Stassen Marcus-LaRouche believed half the things he said.

    At least by 20 yrs. ago people had finally stopped confusing libertarians w LaRouche. That longstanding confusion was as vexing to him as to us.

    1. He will live on on this site – with all those who yap about ‘cultural marxism’ with hidden references to the Frankfurt School. That comes straight out of LaRouche’s Schiller Institute.

      Conspiracy theories live forever

      1. haha. Looks like the original 1992 article in archived at the LaRouchie ‘think tank’. In perfect LaRouche conspiracy fashion – name drop every big name in art/philosophy/history in order to link one bogey (German bolshies and jews) with another (political correctness at universities). And the paleoconservatives directly picked that up and morphed it for their own conspiracies.

        1. That’s approximately the m.o. of Dave Emory too:.

        2. The particular people one wants to point to may be dicey… But the very term political correctness comes from the Soviet Union… And it is a very small leap to get to cultural Marxism/political correctness/etc all being linked. Just sayin’.

      2. What’s the Waldorf School, chopped liver?

        1. No, chopped apples and celery.

  6. Back then I showed their lit to a friend. He thought it was hilarious & joined them for the lulz. Little by little, they won him over, but after a few mos. he was outed as a Rockefeller spy. He described his being purged as a very scary scene of them surrounding him & saying, “Hah!”

    1. The early 1970s, I mean.

  7. 1989: sent to the prison
    1992: ran fro president
    1994: released from prison

    Gotta love that

    1. Hey, it worked for the communism terrorist Nelson Mandela, so why not LaRouche?

  8. He scares me and I would like to erase him from society. Thank you.

  9. I do remember those Lyndon LaRouche pamphlets I’d find downtown in the 90s. Better times, better times.

  10. Oh hey, speaking of crackpot conspiracy theorists, did anyone see this? My understanding is this woman is the highest rated news anchor in the country.

    Here’s James Dore’s take on the depth of her bizarre, Alex Jones-like ranting.

  11. I was talking with a LaRouchite at a table in a public square during the 1980s and he axed me where I was from.

    I told him my hometown and he looked at me wide-eyed and he axed me if I knew that the founder of NAMBLA was from my bumfuck town and then pulled out pamphlets on it and, years later, I found out that the info was accurate!

    I ‘m one of the few who know of it in the town where I grew up.

  12. Back in 1986 Two LaRouchies sabotaged Adlai Stevenson III’s run for governor of Illinois by winning democrat primaries for Secretary of State and Lieutenant Governor The genius democrat voters put them in because they liked their names ,Mark J. Fairchild and Janice Hart over regular dems George Sangmeister and Aurelia Pucinski.

  13. You neglected to address the biggest mystery of all: Why LaRouche got associated with the Libertarian Party somehow. When I first decided I was a Libertarian in the late ’90s, the most common question I got was, “You mean like Lyndon LaRouche?” Where in the world did this association come from?

    1. AFAICT:

      1. Each start with “L”.
      2. Started in the 1970s.
      3. They each held an ideology opposed to the std. 2, but not centrist.
      4. Extremist/radical/dissident, but not communist.
      5. People trusted lazy journalists’ mistakes to that effect.
      6. Disinformation by those seeking to discredit both.

      Andre Marrou believed #6. I doubt it, & even if it was true, I don’t believe it was a significant factor.

  14. What, no mention of his plans to spend $1T in public money on a trip to Mars to stimulate the economy?

    The first time I heard one of his campaign commercials on the radio, it was so over the top I thought it was a gag by the radio station…

    1. In all fairness, spending 1 trillion on a mars colony (we can afford more than a trip for a trillion!) WOULD be a better use of the money than all the welfare and blowing people up spending we do now.

  15. I have not heard his name in a long time and was surprised to hear he has been alive all this time. Always knew he was a kook.

  16. So there used to be some of his guys that did pamphlets outside the post office in my neighborhood off and on. I talked to them a few times when I had time to kill. Being the history dork I am I find conspiracy theories interesting, mainly because in search of a crazy conspiracy people often find really weird, but verifiable facts, to back up their crazy theories.

    So I BSed with them a few times. They believed a lot of SUPER stupid shit. They also mixed in a few true or semi true “fuck the man!” kind of narratives too. I don’t even recall all exactly, but I think they were like anti Federal Reserve, and some other things like that. But definitely nut balls overall.

    It never ceases to amaze me some of the crazy stuff people will believe. It does almost make one want to become a cult leader or something… I mean if people will believe stuff THAT stupid, if you spun a good yarn that was slightly more plausible, might one not end up with millions of followers? But perhaps it is the crazy that draws in so many. Who knows.

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