Essay: Death of a Conspiracy Theorist

Lyndon LaRouche: Perennial fringe presidential candidate

The fate of Lyndon LaRouche’s Australian followers

 

The death in February of Lyndon LaRouche, prolific American political activist and arch-conspiracy theorist, will reverberate on the shadowy fringes of the Australian political landscape.

Will the organisation of his Australian followers, the Citizens Electoral Council (CEC) – whose political influence has been in decline for some time – survive his demise?

Larouche and his international Cult

Lyndon LaRouche (b. Sept. 8, 1922, d. Feb. 12, 2019) boasted of being an “internationally known economist” with “exceptional successes as a long-range forecaster” and stood as a candidate for US president eight times. He promoted conspiratorial views over the course of a long career that ran the gamut from extreme left to far right, with no coherent pattern.

His organisation, which had started by advocating workers’ rights, became a business that raked in millions of dollars annually. His tactics were highly questionable to say the least. His main organisation, the misleadingly named National Caucus of Labor Committees (NCLC), was founded in 1968. He had commenced his political activism as a Trotskyist, but in the early 1970s waged a violent campaign against other leftist groups. He campaigned under the confusing banner of the “National Democratic Policy Committee”, and brandished slogans like “FDR Democrats”.

By 1968, LaRouche’s movement had commenced its transformation into a sort of political cult. Members – often recruited from Larouchite stands set up in public places like airports – were subjected to various forms of psychological manipulation. The New York Times reported in 1979: “For those inside the sunless structure of the party, enclosed by rigid psychological and social strictures, life moves from crisis to crisis as Mr. LaRouche announces new plots of assassination or looming thermo-nuclear war. ‘Every few weeks there’s a new reality, different from the one before but just as absolute,’ said a former member. ‘It seems like the system was designed so that people have no time to think.’ Mr LaRouche brooks no questioning of his revelations. ‘All previous reality is cancelled,’ he once said.”

The aggressive fundraising tactics of the LaRouchite political cult led in 1989 to the incarceration in the US of its leader and a number of his associates for a range of crimes, including mail fraud, tax evasion and charging the credit cards of elderly donors without permission. LaRouche was released on parole in 1994. 

Economics, philosophy and the environment were various topics to feature in LaRouche’s ramblings and to be embraced by his followers, including in Australia, as were his conspiracy theories, an amalgam of the plain bizarre and the darkly sinister. To name just a few: the Queen of England is a drug trafficker as part of sinister conspiracies by the British royal family; Prince Philip uses the World Wildlife Fund to commit terrorism and genocide and is responsible for the Rwandan Genocide; Henry Kissinger was a KGB agent; while the Bush family, which gave rise to two US presidents, “played a central role in financing and arming Adolf Hitler for his takeover of Germany” and “in the development of Nazi genocide theories and racial propaganda.”

Paranoia was a key feature of both LaRouche and the organisations he founded and inspired. He had lived from1983 until his death at age 96 in a mansion-turned-fortress near Leesburg, Virginia, evidently out-manoeuvring the Communists, CIA, Mossad, Justice Department, Rockefellers, Libyans, drug dealers, bankers, Henry Kissinger, Iranians, the Queen, the Malthusian lobby, and all the others he’d claimed were out to get him. 

Following his imprisonment in 1989, LaRouche was convinced his cell was bugged. Jim Bakker, the disgraced televangelist who was his cellmate for a time, later wrote “To say that Lyndon was slightly paranoid would be like saying the Titanic had a bit of a leak.”

Although LaRouche always denied it, antisemitism was an integral part of his febrile world view and, inevitably, that of the various organisations he created and inspired. 

For instance, a major US LaRouche publication claimed in 1978: “Adolf Hitler was put into power largely on the initiative of the Rothschilds, Warburgs, and Oppenheimers, among other Jewish and non-Jewish financial interests centred in the City of London”; the deaths of Jews at Masada and the murder of “about a million and a half Jews” in the Holocaust “certainly did not occur as Zionist historians would have us believe. In both cases, the cause of the slaughter was a deliberate killing of Jews by Zionists!”; and “Modern Zionism was not created by Jews, but was a project developed chiefly by Oxford University.”

CEC head Craig Isherwood, LaRouche’s chief acolyte in Australia

The CEC – the Australian arm of the LaRouche empire 

The CEC began operating as an antipodean outpost of the LaRouche movement in 1989. 

Established originally as a rural far-right organisation in 1988 in Kingaroy, Queensland, by Craig Isherwood, his wife and, as he says modestly, “a couple of other extraordinary Australians”, the CEC came under the influence of the US LaRouche movement. By 1992, it had shifted party headquarters from rural Queensland to suburban Melbourne.

The Australia/Israel Review (AIR) published a detailed expose of the CEC in 1996. Don Veitch, a former director of the CEC’s management committee, told the AIR that the move to Melbourne was designed to bring the leadership closer to its Jewish targets. Veitch, who left the party in disgust in 1994, said “we were out to get the Jewish ADL [Anti-Defamation League]. They started off talking about economics and Renaissance philosophy and geometry but before long it was clear that they were interested in other things.”

Interviews with former CEC members, documented in the 1996 AIR study, confirm the same sinister tactics found in the US LaRouche political cult were also employed in Australia. In addition to psychological harassment and bullying, Veitch recalled being subjected to a technique he likened to personality stripping. Seated with three LaRouche members, he succumbed to intense probing and “confessed” his weaknesses out of trust as part of the group and the grand plan that would save the world. This information was then used to intimidate and to provide a hold over him, leaving him for many years feeling assaulted and traumatised. 

The AIR investigation in 1996 found the first CEC office also to be fortified and designed to protect from the threat posed by “the enemies”. And like LaRouche’s US organisation, the CEC regarded itself as an intelligence service, so that its premises housed an “intelligence room”, used for gathering information on high-profile figures in the community. Members of this unit carried out surveillance, taped phone calls, filed reports and, adopting false identities, visited the offices of Jewish community, student and left-wing organisations, and covertly recorded the conversations they had there. AIJAC was among the organisations they targeted. 

The purpose of the information gathering was to find material that might harm such individuals, their families and associates. Dossiers were maintained on a number of Jewish community figures, including Frank Lowy, Richard Pratt, and Mark Leibler, AIJAC’s current National Chairman, and his brother Isi, another leading Jewish community figure for many decades. 

According to Veitch, “we were instructed to get [Mark Leibler] at all costs. They told us that the orders for the Waco siege [a 1993 siege on the compound of a Texas cult by US law enforcement authorities that led to the death of 76 people in a fire] came from the Leiblers in Melbourne.”

The CEC in Parliament

In Australia, LaRouchian conspiracy theories have even worked their way into parliamentary deliberations on a number of occasions, thanks to CEC efforts. 

In 2011, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia held public hearings to gather evidence as to the effects of the Murray-Darling Basin plan on regional communities, businesses, and agriculture, giving CEC members an opportunity to represent the purported views of “thousands” of people across the nation. 

Spouting classic LaRouchite claims, a Mr Dick Thies claimed that the basis of the governing legislation was “just plain quackery and bullshit … derived from Prince Philip’s World Wildlife Fund …[whose] co-founder, Max Nicholson, said in 1970… ‘Ducks unlimited means sovereignty superseded.’… the WWF and its “Australian minions …[the] Australian Conservation Foundation,… the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, environmentalists and greenies, set out to smash the Murray-Darling Basin and destroy Australia’s food bowl to help with Prince Philip’s mad idea of depopulating the world.” 

Meanwhile, Ann Lawler, CEC national chairperson, referred to “this genocidal take-down of the Murray-Darling Basin food bowl and the nation which depends on it… set up for destruction by …London’s stooges in the Australian banks and by …corrupt politicians of all persuasions who have sold their souls to the murderous market ideology of the British Empire which controls 70% of the world’s finance through its inter-alpha group of banks that today are being bailed out with trillions of taxpayer dollars…Their plan will cause a permanent man-made drought and a permanent breakdown crisis for the basin and for the 22 million Australians and 60 million people overseas who will go hungry as Australia’s major food bowl is shut down.”

A Senate committee in 2017 inquiring into proposed financial legislation, received (thanks to a CEC email campaign) several submissions expressing fear that the national financial regulator would be permitted to “bail-in” the savings of depositors to rescue failing financial institutions. In its report the Committee noted the concern but found no basis for it. In true LaRouchian style, the CEC nevertheless persists with panic-mongering on the subject.

Meanwhile, the targeting of Mark Leibler reached its nadir with the Ken Aldred affair in 1995. Aldred was a federal Liberal MP who abused parliamentary privilege to make a series of false allegations in the House of Representatives against Leibler and other members of the Jewish community. In the early 1990s he attempted to link these individuals to organised crime and tax fraud. This culminated in 1995 with the allegation that Leibler was a Mossad agent involved in the payment of a massive bribe to the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Michael Costello. The Australian Federal Police found that the documents tabled by Aldred in support of his claim were forgeries. Their source was the CEC, it was found.

The CEC today 

Today, the CEC maintains an online and community media presence, producing a weekly show that airs on community television in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, as well as a slick website. On the latter, LaRouche is described as the “late US statesman and physical economist”, and the CEC as “an independent political party leading the fight for Australia to return to the banking and economic development policies that will grow our productive economy and secure the future well-being for all Australians”.

It claims inspiration from “the policies of old Labor, and its leaders such as John Curtin and Ben Chifley who believed in the ‘common good’ or raising the living standards of all people through nation-building infrastructure, education, free health care, and scientific and cultural progress.” These motherhood statements, which echo LaRouche’s opportunistic invocations of “FDR”, are juxtaposed with the foe, identified as “the Crown (under which) corporations, banks and other lackeys of the City of London and Wall Street have been profiting from the exploitation of Australia’s natural resources, privatisation of our essential services, deregulation of our industries and through their hold over the political process to protect their speculation within our banks.”

The CEC display their wares in Melbourne

The website is replete with dramatic headlines warning of imminent disaster, urging the reader to sign petitions and to find out more within. It contains libraries of its various media products, including the latest videos of the “CEC Report” (the organisation’s weekly community television show) and a plethora of media releases. 

The website teems with hyperbole about banking and financial crises, precipices on which the nation constantly teeters. Media releases and alerts frequently mention terms such as “Glass-Steagall” and “bail-ins” with which few Australians would likely be familiar. The former refers to US post-Great Depression legislation that enforced the separation of savings and loan banks from investment banks. 

Recent episodes of the television offerings carry hyperbolic titles, such as “They’re going to rape the dollar!” (aired on 25 April this year “on the possible scenario where Australia is the trigger for the next global financial crisis”), “Fascist banking laws (fascist laws serve bankers’ dictatorship)” which aired on 21 June, and “Reserve Bank confirms the crash has started!” (July 5). Videos are mostly on the topics of banking, finance and the economy, and the tone is always warning of imminent crisis. 

Anyone signing up for the CEC’s regular email updates can expect to be bombarded with more of the same, as CEC media releases are issued every few days.

The CEC also offers, by paid subscription ($500 for 12 months), its weekly “Australian Alert Service”, as well as various books, DVDs and pamphlets for purchase, many of which are very dated. Examples include the pamphlet “Children of Satan II: the beast-men” ($5) a feverish conspiracy tale concerning former US Vice-President Dick Cheney, but interweaving Australian references such as the “Cheneyac cabal’s local co-thinkers, such as the Mark Leibler-chaired Australian Israel Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC)” and the “new… ‘Third Way’ Blair look-alike Mark Latham.” The writing in the sample provided on the website is impenetrable and – in every sense – dense. 

At the luxury end of the range, one can purchase (for $100 each) Executive Intelligence Review (EIR) special reports, such as “Zbigniew Brzezinski and September 11th”, in which “LaRouche points to the facts that have emerged since September 11th which demonstrate that he was correct in identifying that assault as an attempted coup d’etat” and exposes the set of “universal fascist” coup-plotters “who still represent an ongoing threat of coup d’etat against the Bush Administration” including “Israeli intelligence apparatuses”. By comparison, the book The Ugly Truth about the ADL, which provides “some insight into the oh-so-sanctimonious Anti-Defamation Commission of Bnai Brith (ADC), the Australian daughter organisation to the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith (ADL) in the US …as only LaRouche has had the courage to do”, 152 pages for only $10, seems like a bargain. The examples provided above merely skim the surface of the lunatic offerings available to those wishing to “educate” themselves on the great “physical economist’s” teachings. 

MUCH money, few votes 

Despite the CEC’s polished media veneer and other efforts to mimic the NCLC, its political efforts have led to dismal results.

The CEC has stood candidates in successive federal elections for nearly two decades, during which time it has been consistently and spectacularly unsuccessful. In 2004, the party ran candidates in 95 seats nationally and polled last in 80 of them. It received 42,349 votes, representing 0.36% of the total. It has fared little differently since then, except that it has fielded steadily fewer candidates. In the most recent federal election in May, the CEC only stood candidates for two lower house seats, who garnered a mere 2,834 votes nationally (0.02%).

This failure can certainly not be attributed to a lack of funding because, like its US counterpart, it is extraordinarily cashed up for such an insignificant party. Returns lodged with the Australian Electoral Commission for at least the past decade show the party’s total receipts hovering close to an annual average of $2 million.

This money comes mainly through aggressive fundraising methods learnt from the US mothership. The AIR expose in 1996 reported on the trips to Australia by senior US operatives of the organisation to instruct the local group in, amongst other things, fundraising. Specialising in heavy-handed and coercive techniques for obtaining large donations, at least two of these individuals were later charged in the US on various counts, including illegal solicitation, credit card fraud and harassment.

In the 1990s most of the CEC’s income was derived through cold calling potential donors by teams of 10 to 20 staff members who manned the phones for up to 20 hours a day. Particular groups, such as farming communities, were targeted, using mailing lists obtained from conservative and far-right groups. Staff, reading from prepared cards, would warn of impending national economic and moral collapse; of their fight against the organised crime, drugs and pornography rackets run by the B’nai B’rith ADL; the threat of escalation to World War III; and so on. They pressured individuals, including the naïve and elderly, to hand over credit card numbers, and would follow up by sending – sometimes flying – “upgrade teams” to often remote properties to ingratiate themselves and solicit for greater sums, often urging their victims to take out loans or mortgages to help the party and save Australia. 

This, together with the psychological tactics employed, led to devastating repercussions for many families, some of whose heartbreaking accounts of marital and emotional breakdowns and financial ruin were recorded in the AIR. The fact that a fringe party like the CEC, that has never made any real impact on national politics maintains such a high level of funding is disturbing, and suggests the egregious practices of the past have not ceased.

As for their political fortunes, the decline in influence and profile of the CEC and its overseas parent organisation have been evident for many years – but the money-making machine appears to be grinding on. 

It remains to be seen whether the CEC can survive the passing of Lyndon LaRouche, their supposed great inspiration.