Lyndon LaRouche, Conspiracy Kook And Perennial Presidential Candidate, Dies At 96

Lyndon LaRouche, an eight-time Presidential candidate who ran a cult-like organization that spread bizarre conspiracy theories, has died at 96.

Lyndon LaRouche, who ran a cult-like organization that backed eight bids for the U.S. Presidency either as an Independent or a Democrat, has died at age 96:

Lyndon LaRouche, the quixotic, apocalyptic leader of a cultlike political organization who ran for president eight times, once from a prison cell, died on Tuesday. He was 96.

His death was announced on the website of his organization, La Rouche/Pac. The statement did not specify a cause or say where he died.

Defining what Mr. LaRouche stood for was no easy task. He began his political career on the far left and ended it on the far right. He said he admired Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan and loathed Hitler, the composer Richard Wagner and other anti-Semites, though he himself made anti-Semitic statements.

He was fascinated with physics and mathematics, particularly geometry, but called concerns about climate change “a scientific fraud.”

He condemned modern music as a tool of invidious conspiracies — he saw rock as a particularly British one — and found universal organizing principles in the music of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart.

Some called him a case study in paranoia and bigotry, his mild demeanor notwithstanding. One biographer, Dennis King, in “Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism” (1989), maintained that Mr. LaRouche and his followers were a danger to democratic institutions.

Mr. LaRouche denigrated a panoply of ethnic groups and organized religions. He railed against the “Eastern Establishment” and environmentalists, who he said were trying to wipe out the human race. Queen Elizabeth II of England was plotting to have him killed, he said. Jews had surreptitiously founded the Ku Klux Klan, he said. He described Native Americans as “lower beasts.”

Even so, Mr. LaRouche was able to develop alliances with farmers, the Nation of Islam, teamsters, abortion opponents and Klan adherents. Acolytes kept Mr. LaRouche’s political machine going by peddling his tracts and magazines in airports, and by persuading relatives and friends to donate large sums to help him fight his designated enemies.

He operated through a dizzying array of front groups, among them the National Democratic Policy Committee, through which he received millions of dollars in federal matching money in his recurring presidential campaigns. His forces also sponsored candidates at the state and local levels, including for school board seats.

His movement attracted national attention, especially in 1986, when two LaRouche followers, Mark Fairchild and Janice Hart, unexpectedly won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor and secretary of state, respectively, in Illinois.

Adlai E. Stevenson III, the Democratic candidate for governor of Illinois that year, was appalled. He denounced the LaRouche group as “neo-Nazis” and refused to run with Mr. Fairchild and Ms. Hart, organizing a third-party bid instead. He, as well as the LaRouche supporters, lost to James R. Thompson, the Republican incumbent.

Some voters said they had voted for Mr. Fairchild and Ms. Hart because they had been endorsed by Mr. LaRouche’s National Democratic Policy Committee, which they thought was affiliated with the mainstream Democratic Party.

(…)

Lyndon Hermyle LaRouche Jr. was born on Sept. 8, 1922, in Rochester, N.H., to Lyndon and Jesse (Weir) LaRouche. He grew up in the Quaker tradition. His father was a traveling salesman for the United States Shoe Machinery Corporation, and his mother once ran a Quaker meeting in Boston’s Back Bay.

His was not a happy childhood. Boys would pick on him, he said, but he refused to fight them, which only brought more disapprobation.

It got no better after the family moved to Lynn, Mass. He regarded himself there as an outcast and had few friends in high school. He was not an “ugly duckling,” he said, “but a nasty duckling.”

When World War II began, Mr. LaRouche declared himself a conscientious objector, citing his pacifist Quaker upbringing. But toward the end of the war he enlisted in the Army, despite his mother’s objections.

After the war, he enrolled in Northeastern University in Boston but “resigned,” he said, because the university was not challenging his superior intellect. He said he had been able to become the century’s leading economist without formal college study.

He married Janice Neuberger in the early 1950s and had a son, Daniel, by her in 1956. The marriage failed, and he never talked publicly about his son and his former wife in his later years.

Mr. LaRouche’s political roots were Marxist. From 1948 to 1963, he was active in the Socialist Workers Party, a Trotskyite group.

His own group surfaced during the student unrest at Columbia University in the late 1960s as a faction of the left-wing Students for a Democratic Society. It evolved into the National Caucus of Labor Committees, an organization largely made up of young upper-middle-class people who espoused Mr. LaRouche’s Marxist views.

He first ran for president in 1976 as the candidate of the left-wing United States Labor Party, now defunct.

(…)

Mr. LaRouche’s views became the foundation of a political movement. By the mid-1970s, his organization had 37 offices in North America and 26 in Europe and Latin America. A core membership in the United States numbered about 1,000. One follower won 27 percent of the vote in a local election in Seattle. Mr. LaRouche was pulling in enough money nationally to qualify for federal matching funds for his presidential campaigns.

He had also become an entrepreneur, starting three companies, one of which printed newspapers for high schools; together they brought in revenues of $5 million or more a year.

(…)

Mr. LaRouche was at the apex of his power in the mid-1980s, when he moved his headquarters to a large rented estate in Northern Virginia, in Round Hill, outside Leesburg. When neighbors wondered aloud why he had turned the estate into an armed camp, rigged with electronic security and patrolled by men with semiautomatic rifles, Mr. LaRouche went on the attack. He said that the Leesburg Garden Club was “a nest of Soviet fellow travelers.”

In 1987, after an F.B.I. investigation, Mr. LaRouche was convicted in Virginia on charges of scheming to defraud the Internal Revenue Service and of deliberately defaulting on more than $30 million in loans from thousands of his supporters. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and sent to a federal penitentiary in Minnesota.

The conviction hurt his movement but did not end it. He was released from prison in 1994, after serving a third of his sentence. He immediately announced that he would run for president in 1996. He ran again in 2000 and 2004. After Barack Obama was elected in 2008, Mr. LaRouche warned that the new president was in “grave and imminent danger” of being assassinated by the “British Empire,” a familiar target of Mr. LaRouche’s.

By 2015 he had long turned against Mr. Obama, calling for his impeachment and accusing him in one instance of orchestrating Turkey’s downing of a Russian fighter jet involved in the war in Syria. “Obama organized an act of war, and has thus endangered the United States, as well as all of humanity,” Mr. LaRouche wrote.

But he could be bipartisan in his attacks. He accused the Bush family of collaborating with Nazi Germany during World War II, and said that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a product of a neoconservative conspiracy, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, to deceive the American people. That view was expressed in a series of pamphlets, titled “Children of Satan.”

It was difficult at times to not notice LaRouche and his supporters during that period in the 1980s noticed above. He frequently bought half-hour or even hour-long blocs of air time on local television stations during which he would delve into the bizarre conspiracy theories that brought in everyone from the Rothchild family and the Queen of England to the Bush Family and the Central Intelligence Agency. His supporters, meanwhile, could often be found in front of post offices and other public buildings where they would set up tables and attempt to give out literature to patrons and passers-by. As many noted at the time, his movement had many of the indications of a cult although it wasn’t really based on religion per se, but rather on the same sort of conspiracy theories that are now specialized in by the likes of Alex Jones and others like him. In that sense, I suppose LaRouche really was a man ahead of his time who no doubt would have fully utilized the Internet had it been available during the height of his power and influence. As it was he was just another nut.

 

FILED UNDER: Obituaries, Quick Takes
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. HelloWorld! says:

    Well, I hope the LaRouche choir still lives on, singing their Exorcist hymns outside of the DC Metro stations.

  2. Grumpy realist says:

    Doug—did you notice the judicial decision that Alex Jones can be deposed for the whole Sandy Hook defamation case?

    I love it when trolls get bit hard in the bum by legal reality. Too many of them seem to forget that defamation and libel don’t get waved away by saying:”I was only joking.”

  3. Kylopod says:

    I was once accosted by a LaRouchite in college, and just out of idle curiosity I decided to listen to his spiel for a couple of minutes. I couldn’t make heads or tails of what he was saying. If I recall correctly, he rambled about how the US hasn’t been a democracy since 1918 or some such year (the League of Nations? women’s suffrage? who knows….), then I finally excused myself and left for class.

    For some reason LaRouche was long associated with the left, despite the fact that for the most part his views sounded like someone on the far, far right. He dabbled in everything from Holocaust denial to global warming denial. His people were among the “Tea Party” protesters who flooded townhalls in 2009. (Anyone remember the moment when a woman started ranting at Barney Frank about Obama being like Hitler, and he told her talking with her was like arguing with a dining room table? It turned out she was a LaRouchite.) Ed Kilgore has more about how it was a fundamentally right-wing movement that disguised itself as left-wing and Democratic.

    Most political cults are at least partially understandable. Donald Trump, Ron Paul, Ayn Rand–I get. They may be incredibly detached from reality, and their followers may be stupid, annoying, and bigoted, but I understand the appeal at some level and there at least is some internal consistency. I can’t say that about LaRouchism, which is simply bizarre, lacking in coherence or even a clear purpose. It doesn’t even seem to be about anything other than being a grab-bag of weird conspiracy theories. I don’t know what anyone ever saw in it, or what it offered them that they couldn’t get in numerous other deranged cults.

  4. Kathy says:

    This may be cliche, but good riddance to bad rubbish.

  5. Franklin says:

    @Kylopod:

    For some reason LaRouche was long associated with the left, despite the fact that for the most part his views sounded like someone on the far, far right.

    Some theorize that the political spectrum is more of a circle. Once you get to the loony ends, they somehow meet each other in wacky world.

  6. Kylopod says:

    @Franklin:

    Some theorize that the political spectrum is more of a circle. Once you get to the loony ends, they somehow meet each other in wacky world.

    But that doesn’t really apply to LaRouche. After his early years there was almost nothing about him or his movement that was characteristic of the left, even the far left. Leftists don’t show up at Tea Party protests.

  7. Moosebreath says:

    “Lyndon LaRouche, Conspiracy Kook And Perennial Presidential Candidate, Dies At 96”

    The good die young.

  8. Franklin says:

    @Kylopod: I can’t argue with that because I don’t know or care to investigate the evolution of his views. I was just suggesting that was maybe the route he took from left to right, because I doubt one would find a time when he was considered a normal moderate centrist.

  9. Kylopod says:

    @Franklin: I agree that people whose political views evolve don’t necessarily go from left to center, and then center to right; there are many examples of leftists becoming rightists without any flirtations with the center (especially because the extreme right and extreme left both tend to be authoritarian). That’s partly where the horseshoe theory of politics comes from.

    But I wasn’t so much commenting on LaRouche’s evolution as the fact that he and his followers continued to identify with the left for decades after they had any views that could conceivably be described as left-wing. It’s the bizarre false advertising I was commenting on.

  10. Kathy says:

    @Franklin:

    Some theorize that the political spectrum is more of a circle. Once you get to the loony ends, they somehow meet each other in wacky world.

    I wouldn’t say that’s so, but the extremes perforce require much the same methods to be implemented. The reason being that at best a plurality of the people will want to go all in with the extremists. Therefore they have to resort to repression in order to exert control.

    I think this is true even when they may have a majority of the population supporting them, look at the Bolsheviks in Russia. In this case, the support was for ending Russia’s participation in WWI, and ending the food shortages (Bread and peace was a revolutionary slogan). The support wasn’t for establishing a totalitarian dictatorship, abolishing private property, etc. oh, they had support for that, but not from the majority.

  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kylopod: My connections to LaRouche started in high school with the SDS, so I may be able to see the Marxist roots more clearly, but you comment reminds me that one of my departures from conventional wisdom is that I see the political spectrum not as an arc but as a circle. From that perspective, the trip from far left to far right isn’t as long as it seems. Beyond that point, my take on LaRouche is that he was opportunistic enough to see in the late 70s that left-wing conspiracy was on its way out and the next big thing was right-wing conspiracy, so he adopted that to stay current.

    ETA: Your comment at 13:56 explains your point better and why he and his continued to identify as leftist is a puzzle to me, outside of the opportunistic element. Perhaps his followers are as big of political naifs as MAGAots.

  12. Gustopher says:

    The lizard people finally got him. Good.

  13. Kathy says:

    Completely off-topic and out of left field, but if someone has a need to mourn, there are better objects for that this week:

    1) The Opportunity rover in Mars has gone silent and NASA’s given up trying to make contact. It was supposed to serve for 90 days, the little robot lasted 14 years.

    2) Airbus passed a death sentence on the A380 program, announcing production will end in 2021. Sales were never what airbus expected. Like its grand-uncle, the Concorde, it fell victim to a bad economy and rising fuel prices, though many more A380s were built than Concordes.

  14. DrDaveT says:

    He condemned modern music as a tool of invidious conspiracies

    I remember that sometime in the very early 1980s the students at the Peabody Conservatory were passing around an issue of Larouche’s The Campaigner: A Neoplatonic Republican Journal. It had an article on the willfully decadent and deliberately subversive nature of jazz, complete with side-by-side comparisons of snippets of Beethoven scores and Ravel scores, with the subversive chords circled in red on the Ravel side…

    The music students couldn’t stop laughing.

  15. Kylopod says:

    @DrDaveT: That reminds heavily of the campaign against jazz music in Nazi Germany, which sounds almost comical putting aside the monstrous element to what it entailed. There’s a great article in Smithsonian Magazine that includes a discussion of the Nazi government’s attempt to create its own jazz propaganda band with the name Charlie and his Orchestra, while trying to suppress the genre in general. Here is a description of some of the details of the ban:

    1. Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoire of light orchestras and dance bands.

    2. In this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics;

    3. As to tempo, preference is also to be given to brisk compositions over slow ones (so-called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro, commensurate with the Aryan sense of discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo (so-called hot jazz) or in solo performances (so-called breaks) be tolerated;

    4. So-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs);

    5. Strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (so-called cowbells, flexatone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl (so-called wa-wa, hat, etc.);

    6. Also prohibited are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar in four-quarter beat (except in stylized military marches);

    7. The double bass must be played solely with the bow in so-called jazz compositions;

    8. Plucking of the strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument and detrimental to Aryan musicality; if a so-called pizzicato effect is absolutely desirable for the character of the composition, strict care must be taken lest the string be allowed to patter on the sordine, which is henceforth forbidden;

    9. Musicians are likewise forbidden to make vocal improvisations (so-called scat);

    10. All light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of saxophones of all keys and to substitute for them the violin-cello, the viola or possibly a suitable folk instrument.

    https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/hitlers-very-own-hot-jazz-band-98745129/