Lyndon La Rouche has died. The stories about him and his uber-weird political career are legion. This is a summary version of mine; it has a lot to do with Quakers. It wasn’t meant to, but that’s how it turned out.
First, though, I need to make what will seem like a pointless digression, though it isn’t; then we’ll get back to LaRouche:
In 1965, I worked in the civil rights movement Selma, Alabama. Dr. King was leading a campaign to break through the exclusion of people of color from voting. Out of that campaign emerged a great victory: passage of the Voting Rights Act.
Dr. King traveled a lot; his day-to-day second in command in Selma was James Bevel. Bevel was a fine organizer, a brilliant preacher, and a very charismatic figure.
I still remember him bursting into my bedroom at the home of Mrs. Amelia Boynton, Selma’s most respected local black woman activist. It was after midnight, but he woke up my wife and me to tell us about his brilliant idea — for a march from Selma to Montgomery– which had just come to him in the cold late February moonlight. I was still half-asleep, but I could see that it was a brilliant idea.
It wasn’t his only one. In these years, many prominent black leaders were going along with support for the Vietnam War, at least as a way of staying in the good graces of President Lyndon Johnson, who had been the political champion of voting and civil rights. But Bevel soon saw through this, sensed the plagues domestic and foreign which the war was loosing on the world, and took his case to Dr. King. At heart, King agreed; but he was also worried bout the politics. Bevel kept up his work of persuasion, along with some others, and by the beginning of 1967 Dr. King overcame his reluctance and opposed the war openly and eloquently.
On the other hand, in off-hours, Bevel was renowned as a seducer. This habit was periodically disruptive among the field staff, as his eye wandered among the wives of colleagues as well as the younger groupies who were drawn to the movement. Yet he was hardly alone in this habit among the highly patriarchal leading circles of the movement. The richly sardonic song, “Go Limp,” by the legendary singer Nina Simone describes this phenomenon with trenchant artistry.
Early in 1966, after the movement’s peak and passage of the Voting Rights Act, I was confronted by the escalation of the Vietnam War and the military draft. Soon I left Selma to begin two years of alternative service as a Conscientious Objector. Shortly before leaving I ran into Quakers who were visiting Alabama to study the civil rights movement. That connection stuck. By then, Dr. King’s field staff, including James Bevel, had moved to Chicago, where Dr. King made an effort to bring his mass nonviolence to a big northern city.
I was headed first to Long Island, New York, and work at an experimental Quaker college. One thing led to another, and in the spring of 1969 I formally joined Friends at Cambridge Friends Meeting, a few blocks west of Harvard, where, finished with alternate service, I was then a student at Harvard Divinity School.
I was pretty diligent about attending meeting at Cambridge; the meetinghouse was usually nearly full, mostly with students from various universities around, coming and going like the tides in Boston Harbor.
During the next couple of years, on several First Day mornings, I heard a deep voice boom from the back benches. After the second time, it was clearly recognizable, not only from the sound but also the message: This older man — by eyeballing I figured he was a healthy seventy-something — always touched on the same themes:
One, we should pray for peace, especially in Vietnam.
Two, he had been a Conscientious Objector to the draft in World War One, and that was a very tough experience.
Three, we should give president Richard Nixon (raised Quaker) a break, because he was a good man doing his best.
And finally, we should put all our troubles, “onto the living Christ.”
That was it. Sometimes he opened with a brief quotation from the hymn, “Dear Lord & Father of Mankind,” by Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier:
In simple trust like theirs who heard
Beside the Syrian sea
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word,
Rise up and follow Thee.
The messages were more than a little strange in the intellectual and lefty-inclined atmosphere at the meeting. But he never spoke long; his fourfold sermonettes were compact. And I didn’t give them much thought — except that, like most other Cambridge Friends, I wasn’t interested in cutting Richard Nixon, who was then perpetuating and expanding a horrible war in southeast Asia, much slack.
On the other hand, I had read a few accounts about treatment of COs during World War One, which was often brutal, and I figured, if he says he had a tough time then, and was maybe scarred by it, perhaps he had earned some patience. And he left quickly when meeting closed.
Fast forward: Soon enough I dropped out of divinity school and began work as a rookie journalist for a lefty metro weekly paper, one of those that fancied itself as “underground.” I wrote a lot about the Vietnam War and anti-war protests, including the continuing quarrels among various left-wing groups which jockeyed constantly for influence over the peace movement.
I had no background among dedicated leftists, so had to learn the scene. The way it broke down then (early 1970s), was like this: There were two “major parties” of Marxists, which were dogged by a bunch of smaller groups who aspired and schemed to replace them.
The major groups were the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) — which in this subculture corresponded to the Republicans, the “Establishment,” as it were, the largest, and best-financed (with, we were told, by Kremlin money). And then, standing in for the Democrats: the Socialist Workers Party, or SWP.
There was a long tangle of history to their rivalry, which I won’t go into. More important was the mythos that sustained the believers in their ranks: namely that millions of Americans were always on the verge of turning against the capitalist system, and when this turn actually came, the one true Marxist party would turn then into the “vanguard” for a new American Revolution.
These groups were like churches arguing about Jesus’ imminent return: once He landed, who would Comrade Jesus pick to run his armies, to banish the forces of Satan (Capitalism) and enforce his thousand-year rule, as prophesied in the Book of Revelation, plus stray passages in Daniel — and yada yada?? The CP and SWP were like the Catholics versus the Southern Baptists: believers who thumped their bibles (penned by such latter prophets as Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky), and insisted they were ready. The smaller sects said “No, no,” it was their vanguard scenarios for this political apocalypse that were the real, true ones; and back and forth it went.
Normally almost nobody paid any attention to them then, except for the FBI, which salted their ranks with informers, plus various red-diaper babies in and around colleges and a few labor unions, and then some minor league theologian wannabes — “reformist” riffraff like me.
But there was one big exception to this indifference: the CPUSA and the SWP constantly struggled to gain hegemony over the antiwar movement; they saw it as the doorway to the mass radical base they yearned for. That movement was also my real concern, personally and journalistically; but to understand the twists and turns in its ever-turbulent course, I needed to get my bearings on the left; they weren’t the same, but they went together.
Which is how, in the spring of 1973, I heard about a leftist group calling itself the National Caucus of Labor Committees (or NCLC), which was making trouble on the left, declaring it was about to take over, and absorb the antiwar movement too.
Politically, the NCLC was aiming at the lefty “Establishment,” that is, the Communist Party and the SWP. It insisted the era of their dominance on the Marxist left was over, that NCLC was poised to elbow them aside, and lead a rejuvenated, united left to a “real”, victorious Marxist revolution in the U. S., in no more than three years. (He was also going to cure “real” radicals of impotence, homosexuality and various other erotic dysfunctions. There was a definite streak of sexual obsession in his worldview.)
Naturally the larger SWP and CPUSA snickered and mocked at the NCLC’s pretensions. But the newcomers backed up their declaration with violence: they sent in groups of thugs to break up CP and SWP meetings and rallies, leaving numerous people beaten bloody in their wake. Their leader called this “Operation Mop-up,” and predicted it would clear the streets of the CPUSA and SWP in a few months.
This NCLC leader, who was new to me, called himself Lyn Marcus. Rumor had it this was an alias, like those used by spies in John Le Carre novels. He also called himself the world’s greatest living economist, and the main political hope for avoiding a thermonuclear war. And he said anyone, especially journalists, who criticized him or his messianic claims was a willing tool of the CIA.
Which is what Marcus called my employer, The Real Paper, an underground/alternative weekly in Cambridge, after we published a piece calling him out as dangerous and nutty. I’m pretty sure I wrote it.
We were royally pissed off by these allegations: there really had been papers financed by covert CIA money in our lifetimes, so the charges stung. We decided to strike back by doing an in-depth expose on Marcus and his thuggish group, and divided up the tasks: my assignment was to find out who “Lyn Marcus” really was.
And I did.
He was Lyndon LaRouche.
More precisely, he was Lyndon LaRouche Junior. I found him by taking a scrap of a lead and making a bunch of phone calls. One lead led to another, soon I had his name.
And I had something more: as my calls unfolded, the names of some of those I called became familiar: they were Quakers. Most were older and prominent in the regional group, New England Yearly Meeting. I was still a relatively new Quaker, and didn’t actually know these people, but had heard and seen their names in various reports of routine Quaker doings.
These calls got increasingly eerie. Why was the trail to Marcus/LaRouche’s real identity taking me into Quaker circles?
Soon enough, his parents were on the phone, and I had my answer: they were Quakers, and had raised their much doted-on boy “Lyndie” as such.
But they were renegade Quakers: they had been “read out”, or “disowned” (i. e., expelled) from Lynn Meeting north of Boston after some internecine quarrel. One factor in the expulsion was that his parents’ religious (and political) views had turned more fundamentalist/reactionary as their meeting grew more liberal; another was Larouche père’s penchant for fervent denunciation of religious opponents as corrupt and communistic. Later he and his wife started a skid row mission in a run-down (now doubtless gentrified) section of Boston, calling it an independent Friends meeting.
My conversation with the father, Lyndon Senior, became more unsettling when I finally realized that his voice sounded familiar: it was that of the booming visitor to Cambridge Meeting of a few years back. No wonder he slipped quietly away when meeting ended. He had been branded with a scarlet “A” (for Apostate); among the older members of the meeting, some may well have known the story.
Yet not only had he been a CO in World War One, his boy “Lyndie”: had followed his example and been a Quaker CO in World War Two. In Junior’s autobiography, he said he was assigned to a CO work camp in New Hampshire. There a fellow CO gave him some Marxist books. Young LaRouche had already been having secret doubts about his parents’ theology and politics. Away from home, he soon emerged a born-again communist. Later he left the CO camp and joined the army as a medic. Reports are that he was sent to Burma (now Myanmar), but what he did for the army is in dispute.
After the war LaRouche Jr. eventually gravitated to New York City, and hung around Columbia University, giving informal lectures on Marxist theory, and his developing interpretations of it. The early membership of the NCLC come out of 1960s radical student movements there.
Neither of his parents owned up to knowing much about “Lyndie’s” recent political views, though both insisted he would never “do anything wrong.”
When I hung up, I had my scoop. I had unmasked “Lyn Marcus,” and had confirmed it with several sources besides the parents. Our expose would be a heckuva good one.
And it was, but it also wasn’t. That contradiction emerged when I actually laid eyes on Marcus/LaRouche, not long afterward.
Soon, LaRouche promised to make public “proof” of secret CIA connections to his critics and adversaries, including our paper, in a public meeting in New York City.
My paper heard of this, and to get that part of the story they sent me to New York, with my colleague Joe Klein (Joe was later a prominent pundit, columnist, and author of the bestseller Primary Colors, a roman à clef about Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign).
We found LaRouche in a seedy Manhattan hotel, in a room at the end of a long, tunnel-like hallway. He was haranguing a crowd, but being very vague about this promised “proof.”
From the back of the room, Joe soon called out a question about seeing the evidence. When Larouche heard him say he was from the Real Paper, he lost it: his reply was a demand to know “If Fager was here?”
When I raised my hand, he began screaming: “You went after my elderly vulnerable parents.” He raised a fist. “You leave my parents alone! You leave my parents alone!”
It became a chant, and we saw several of his goons peeling off from around the platform, heading our way. Shoving notebooks in pockets, we turned back toward the tunnel-like hallway, first hurrying, then trotting.
Suddenly several of the goons surrounded me, shoved me against the wall, grabbed and twisted my beard and told me I better pay attention to what LaRouche was shouting. I wriggled loose, and Joe and I sprinted out to the street, the goons in pursuit, and we jumped into a cab. It was a close call.
And it wasn’t done.
Back in Cambridge at The Real Paper‘s offices, we told our story, still a bit breathless. But the news had reached the editors already. LaRouche had issued threats against the paper. They were coming for us all, he warned, the way they had for the CPUSA and SWP.
For a few days, the editors hired an off-duty cop to sit near the reception desk. He mostly snoozed. But fear lingered in the air like old cigarette smoke.
I wasn’t scared. The brush with a beating had only made me mad. Let’s write up the story and print it, was my cry.
But it didn’t happen. For a reporter to run risks was one thing, the editors & business types said. Attracting threats for the whole staff was another: there were spouses and kids to think of.
(But WTF, I thought. I have a wife and two toddler daughters myself. Who said this was supposed to be easy?) And dammit, I had one of the biggest scoops of my fledgling career: I had unmasked Lyn Marcus/Lyndon LaRouche.
But no go. It’s an understatement to say I felt betrayed and sold out. A few months later, the paper cut me loose, and I wasn’t very sorry.
But the story didn’t die. There was a competing weekly, The Boston Phoenix, across the river from Cambridge. I had a friend there, Vin McLellan. Vin was a tenacious newshound. I gave him a call, and we met in some obscure cafe.
I told him my story, showed him what I’d found, and described how it had been squashed.
But unmasking Marcus/LaRouche felt too important to be egotistical about. If he wanted the story, I said, he could have it. No charge.
He wanted it. In good journalistic fashion, he went over my notes and leads, checking them out. He even made a house call on the senior LaRouches. Finally, his story appeared: in The Boston Phoenix, on Jan. 29, 1974: “Meet Lyn Marcus: The Marxist Messiah.”
Vin got my scoop into print. That fact has been largely forgotten, as his piece has never made it fully onto the web. (It is cited online in an archive maintained by ex-Larouchians. There, if one squints at footnote 23 of Chapter 1, it says, “Chuck Fager, a left-wing Quaker, researched much of the piece.” This, my footnote in (LaRoucheian) history, shows that I didn’t dream all this.)
I didn’t get a byline; but Marcus was outed. Over the next year or two, he abandoned the alias and went by his original name. Nothing bad happened to The Phoenix because of Vin’s expose, confirming my sense of the cowardice at the top of The Real Paper. So it goes.
That should have been it for LaRouche and me. His Operation Mop-Up soon came to an inglorious end: members of the Communist Party and SWP might have been getting softer, older, and compromised with mainline political ties. But they weren’t pacifists, and they had more members and sympathizers. After the first round of assaults, they formed security squads which proved quite capable of repelling NCLC attacks and protecting their meetings and rallies. Marcus/LaRouche soon declared victory and called the “operation” off.
In 1974 he went through a spell of paranoid panic, raving about CIA plans to abort his revolutionary triumph by killing him. One claim was that the Agency was training special hit squads, among whom was a group of anticommunist Cuban frogmen. They were supposedly assigned to swim up the Hudson River to complete their lethal “wet work” and leave his dead body behind.
And that was the more reasonable prediction. In addition, he shouted that the CIA was also kidnapping and programming some of his followers to be inside “Manchurian Candidate” hitmen, conditioned to murder him automatically on hearing a special command over the phone. This bizarre episode drove away many members.
But even more weirdness was to come. In the late 1970s, LaRouche abruptly turned from left to right, adopting a rewired form of American/German fascism, which was, among other things, anti-semitic, anti-black and homophobic. LaRouche ran for president several times, as a Democrat. He also worked with members of the Ku Klux Klan, and the Louis Farrakhan Nation of Islam movement.
I mostly ignored all this. In 1975 I moved west to the California Bay Area, where LaRoucheism was a slender tree lost in the forests of California’s home-grown weirdness. Plus I was more and more interested in studying and writing about Quakerism, in which the apostates of Lynn Meeting seemed very marginal figures.
In 1978, I interviewed Congressman Pete McCloskey, a relatively liberal pre-Reagan Republican. He offered me a job as an investigator for the House Merchant Marine & Fisheries Committee; I took it, and was soon settled high up in a House office building, trying to figure out the arcana of maritime policy, deepsea mining, and ocean shipping cartels. I will not explain what I may have learned there.
But in 1980, after more than a year of this effort, I got an unexpected call from the boss’s office: report here ASAP, said McCloskey’s chief of staff, There’s something you need to explain.
This sounded like trouble. And it was, but it did not involve shipping cartels. Instead, it was a stunning accusation: that I was a Kremlin spy, a KGB mole. And with it was a blast from the past.
It was a new experience, sitting with a Member of Congress, explaining to him that I was not now, and never had been a KGB mole.
But the accusation was there, in a sheaf of professionally printed papers, titled an intelligence “dossier” circulated among the 500-plus congressional offices on Capitol Hill by a group called the National Democratic Policy Committee (NDPC). I’d never heard of it. Yet, I reminded myself, KGB spies in the U.S., especially federal employees, often wound up in jail.
It didn’t take long to figure out that this document was a LaRouche production, and the NDPC one of his stream of front groups.
Reading over the “dossier,” I soon realized that it was shaped by LaRouche’s conspiratorial fantasies, but in a strangely reversed form: in 1973, he said The Real Paper, and I as its employee, were tools of the CIA. Now he charged that I had switched sides, and had become a “close collaborator” of former CIA officer Philip Agee, who had turned against and resigned from the Agency, published books naming hundreds of covert CIA agents, and had taken refuge in Cuba.
A “close collaborator”? I had heard of Agee’s books, but hadn’t read them, and had never met him. Besides, my job for McCloskey did not require a security clearance, and I had none. I had been learning much about some federal policy obscurities, but had no access to government secrets.
The “dossier” also tried to connect me with Michel Ledeen, a neoconservative promoter of wars and disruption in the Middle East. I have likewise read almost nothing of Ledeen’s work and have never met him either.
[NOTE: Agee died in Havana in 2008. As of early 2019, Ledeen is still around Washington, and keeping busy. His most recent book, The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies, was co-authored with retired General Michel Flynn. Flynn, many will recall, was very briefly National Security Advisor in the current White House, before being charged with lying to federal agents about undisclosed Russia connections. He pled guilty, and is awaiting sentencing.]
My guess was that Larouche saw my name in a Congressional Directory, and the sight, in current parlance, was triggering.
But imagine if you can, trying to summarize my Real Paper adventures for a very smart but very busy Member of Congress, and to argue that this “dossier” was belated payback for having once exposed the author as having been born and raised as, er, a Quaker.
McCloskey was not easily spooked. But he was a public figure, with enemies of his own. By the time I had stumbled through all this, he knew what had to be done. He said he believed me (about not being a spy), but these allegations, however ridiculous, could tarnish his reputation too if left unanswered.
So he fired off a letter to William Webster, Director of the FBI, demanding any and all evidence in its files that related to the “dossier” charges about me. When he heard back, he said, he would decide what to do next. (He didn’t say, “And if they say you’re a KGB spy, then you’re in big trouble”; but I heard it anyway.)
I figured the Bureau had files on an old antiwar protester like me; but those protests were not secret, there was no spying involved, and no violence. The FBI files should say that. At least they would if they were accurate.
I wasn’t worried.
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