Fascism Wrapped in an American Flagby Chip Berlet and Joel Bellman
March 10th, 1989
A === Briefing Paper
In Three Parts
How Serious a Threat?
A surprisingly broad range of LaRouche's critics think his political movement should be taken very seriously.
Richard Lobenthal of ADL warns that the LaRouche organization "Obviously should not be dismissed lightly, they are more than just kooks. They are anti-Semitic extremists. His aspirations are to gain legitimacy and power through, amongst other ways, the electoral process. To snicker about LaRouche is to snicker about any bigot or extremist who would ascend to political office and then subvert that office for their own purposes," he says.
In California a LaRouche-backed referendum, Proposition 64, establishing restrictive public health policies regarding Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) demonstrates how the small LaRouche group there had a devastating effect when it found a fearful audience for its simplistic scapegoating theories.
Mark L. Madsen, a public health specialist for the California Medical Association says the LaRouche initiative, Proposition 64, was based on "absolute hysteria and calculated deception," but even though the initiative was soundly defeated "it has set back public health education efforts at least five years. The LaRouche people have almost wiped out all that we have done so far in educating the public about AIDS."
The LaRouche initiative "created an immeasurable medical problem far beyond AIDS victims," says Madsen. In California the number of regular blood donors went down 30%, and one health expert blames this directly on fear by blood donors of repercussions from possibly being identified as carrying the AIDS virus. "This fear, whipped up substantially by the hysterical LaRouche theories about AIDS, led to critical shortages of blood in the state of California," says Madsen.
Leonard Zeskind of the Atlanta-based Center for Democratic Renewal helped build a coalition of Christian, Jewish, farm advocacy and civil rights groups to confront the spread of hate-mongering theories in the wake of the devastation of the rural economy throughout the farm belt. He calls the LaRouche ideology "Crank Fascism".
"The LaRouche organizers are not as active in the farm belt as they once were, but they are still there. For those farmers who may have bought into these bigoted snake-oil theories, the effect has been harmful," says Zeskind. " The LaRouche group "has also been very disruptive in the Black community where they exploit legitimate issues such as drug pushing and widespread unemployment. Those of us who have to deal with the victims of the LaRouche philosophy don't find it very humorous at all," says Zeskind.
Prexy Nesbitt, a consultant to the American Committee on Africa who has led campaigns calling for divestment in South Africa, agrees the LaRouche organization should be taken more seriously. "His people have deliberately made themselves an obstacle to our organizing and disrupted our activities," says Nesbitt. "The LaRouche people spied on anti-apartheid activists and South African exiles in Europe and then provided information to the South African government," charges Nesbitt. "This is a very dangerous and potentially deadly game," he says. "Critics of the South African Government have disappeared or been killed, their offices have been blown up," charges Nesbitt.
In 1981 the respected British magazine New Scientist ran an article titled "American Fanatics put Scientists' Lives at Risk." According to the article, LaRouche's Executive Intelligence Review had circulated a report naming a number of scientists working in the Middle East as being involved in an insurgent conspiracy against established governments. "In certain Middle East countries with hypersensitive governments," warned the magazine, "these allegations, however indirect, can easily lead to arrests, prison sentences and even executions."
Many conservative and New Right groups have also taken stands against LaRouche's brand of bigotry and opportunism. One staffer at the Heritage Foundation, a New Right think-tank based in Washington, D.C., called LaRouche an "intellectual Nazi" and a Heritage Foundation report warned of LaRouche's danger to national security as a reckless purveyor of private intelligence.
New Right military specialist, retired General Daniel O. Graham, says LaRouche followers have significantly hampered his work. Graham, Director of Project High Frontier which supports and helped develop President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative plan for anti-missile defense, says the LaRouche groups have "caused a lot of problems by adopting our issue in an effort to seize credit for the idea." "They also mounted a furious attack on me personally," says Graham. "Even today I get mail asking if I'm in league with LaRouche," he adds wearily.
"LaRouche does not just represent some nut to simply backhand away. . .he's very clever, you have to go to great lengths to get around those people." He adds: "Look, these people are purely interested in power. LaRouche doesn't care about these issues one bit, it's just a way to raise money and consolidate his political base."
Jonathan Levine, the Chicago-based Midwest Regional Director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) agrees that opportunism and exploitation of issues is a key factor with the LaRouche ideology. "Extremists have traditionally tried to piggyback on substantive issues to gain legitimacy for themselves. Never mind that the way the LaRouche candidates frame issues does not warrant serious discussion in a political campaign, but LaRouche may appeal to frustrated, apathetic voters nevertheless."
Bruce B. Decker, a lifelong Republican who has served on the staff of President Gerald Ford and on an AIDS advisory panel appointed by California Governor George Deukmejian, thinks the response to LaRouche's bigoted theories should cut across traditional party politics and electoral constituencies. He lists the forces who joined the California `Stop LaRouche' coalition which beat back the LaRouche-sponsored Proposition 64, widely perceived as a homophobic and anti-civil liberties response to the AIDS crisis:"We united Republicans and Democrats, progressives and conservatives, religious leaders representing Protestants, Catholics, Jews and other beliefs, ethnic groups including Blacks, Latinos and Asians, professionals associations and labor unions. Isn't that a lesson we've learned from history? That we all have an obligation to stand up together and forcefully oppose the victimization and scapegoating spread by these types of demagogues?"
After the Illinois primary Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) blasted his own party for pursuing a policy of ignoring the "infiltration by the neo-Nazi elements of Lyndon H. LaRouche," and worried that too often, especially in the media, "the LaRouchites" are "dismissed as kooks."
"In an age of ideology, in an age of totalitarianism, it will not suffice for a political party to be indifferent to and ignorant about such a movement," said Moynihan. Ironically, when the New York Times covered Moynihan's speech, they essentially censored him by repeatedly substituting the softer term "fascist" wherever Moynihan had said "nazi."
Edward Kayatt, publisher of Our Town a weekly community newspaper on New York City's upper East Side, is angered by that type of self-censorship and by the cowardice of most mainstream media on this point.
Kayatt has published dozens of articles on LaRouche, describing him as a neo-Fascist, neo-Nazi, anti-Semite and racist, including a lengthy series by Dennis King. Following the Illinois primary victory, Kayatt penned an editorial which blasted his colleagues in the press for covering up LaRouche's political ideology.
Kayatt noted that "newspapers are of course afraid of libel suits (even though the New York State Supreme Court has ruled it is `fair comment' to call LaRouche an anti-Semite). But how can the media justify censorship of a U.S. Senator who is sounding the alarm against neo-Nazism? The beast must be named, but within the media world only NBC-TV has shown the courage to do so."
Both Kayatt and Chicago journalist Michael Miner lay some blame for the Illinois LaRouche victory at the feet of those media which chose not to publicize the LaRouchies. Kayatt and Miner note LaRouche's use of litigation to silence critics. Miner wonders if some of the the "media's disdain [for LaRouche] was not partly a reluctance to borrow trouble." Kayatt agrees. "In the late 1920s, when Adolf Hitler began his march to power, one of the tactics was to entangle all his opponents in libel suits," wrote Kayatt.
It is admittedly hard to cover LaRouche, especially since the media in this country tend to ignore historical connections and are reluctant to analyze ideological positions or treat a fringe political group seriously. Political coverage in the U.S. is frequently based on personalities and style rather than political content. Furthermore, when LaRouche is challenged by a reporter, he simply denies everything, or says it was taken out of context, and then claims his enemies are plotting against him--it is difficult for a mainstream reporter to report what LaRouche really says without appearing biased and vindictive or making LaRouche sound totally crazy.
But Kayatt isn't satisfied with excuses. He reflects the sentiment of many who are concerned about media coverage of LaRouche when he says, "LaRouche will not march to power in America, but he can have a serious destabilizing effect on our institutions and can create a beachhead for organized anti-Semitism. To drive him back into political isolation, America's publishers and editors must show some of their traditional courage and backbone."
LaRouche's legal troubles haven't stopped his followers. They actively organized for the New Hampshire Presidential primary, and purchased several half-hour time slots on network television for campaign programming. For the most part, LaRouche fundraisers continue to use the same boiler-room phone-bank techniques they have used for years. Following the criminal indictments, LaRouche loyalists called people from whom they had previously secured loans and told them to blame the government for non-repayment of the original. They then asked for donations to fight the ongoing legal battles which they claim are part of a plot to destroy LaRouche.
The criminal indictments have slowed down LaRouche organizing and fundraising campaigns, but they have by no means solved the problem. No matter what the outcome in the legal arena, LaRouche and his followers can still do a lot of damage by further spreading prejudiced views. Russ Bellant sums it up when he says LaRouche is "just a symbol of a larger problem of authoritarianism which can be very appealing in times of crisis. The LaRouche phenomenon indicates that we need to educate Americans about the theories and tactics of demagogues."
If we intend to defend democracy we had best learn to recognize its
enemies, and not be afraid to stand up and call them by name.
Chip Berlet is staff researcher at === (PRA) in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Joel Bellman is a former editorial page writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.
Both Bellman and Berlet have written extensively about the LaRouche organization.
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political groups and trends.
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