The cult on Pennsylvania Avenue

A peculiar organisation is peddling exotic conspiracy theories about Joe Biden’s electoral win — but the Larouchians have long attempted to bend reality

Matthew Sweet

I’ve been getting those emails. The ones asking for my support, and maybe the three-digit number on the reverse of my bank card, to save the Republic from the vote-riggers and prevent Joe Biden from stealing the US election. “On November 3,” thunders a typical example, “the American people rose to the call of history, and voted to return Donald Trump to office . . . Now that victory must be defended from a ‘color revolution’, a fascist coup which is blatantly attempting to steal the election. The President is fighting the fraud and will not capitulate.”

These communications are not from the outgoing President’s “Official Election Defense Fund”—though those are weird enough, with their faintly threatening language, graphs borrowed from Falun Gong publications, and $5 donation button that extracts $55 from your account through some digital sleight of hand. But they are the work of an organisation with which it shares some common ground. The LaRouche Political Action Committee, founded by the late eight-time presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche, is unenthusiastic about empiricism, beguiled by exotic and impossible conspiracy theories, and keen on conjuring virtue from its own falsehoods. It also enjoys the vocal support of Roger Stone, the political dirty trickster who recently received a pardon from the Oval Office. Which means that its messaging—in a sense that will remain correct until 20 January—is Presidential in tone.

There’s difference, though, in the detail. In the increasingly confusing assertions made in courtrooms and on landscape gardening forecourts by the President’s personal lawyer, it’s often hard to tell who is being accused of what. The affidavits produced by Rudy Giuliani a week after the election were like a collection of dreams about mysterious unmarked vans and once-glimpsed “phoney” ballot papers. When journalists ask Donald Trump if, as QAnon supporters believe, he is secretly saving the world from Satanic paedophiles (think Rosemary’s Baby meets Chitty Chitty Bang Bang meets Team America: World Police) then he doesn’t agree, but coyly avoids the opportunity to deny it. Useful vagueness descends.

The LaRouchians are much hotter on the specifics. And here, readers who thought, like John Major, that the United Kingdom is “no longer a great power” and “will never be so again” can allow their chests to swell with pride. “Before Election Day was over,” reports a recent LaRouche despatch, “a British-centered imperial elite—acting through Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the intelligence community and the media—moved into the vote fraud phase of its four-year-long ‘color revolution’ against the President, and decreed the green, fascist Biden/Harris team to be the imperial overlords of the United States of America.” This covert British reconquest was finalised, they insist, on November 11 at Prince Charles’s Green Horizon summit, where HRH, the Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey, his predecessor Mark Carney and Michael Bloomberg, Giuliani’s successor as Mayor of New York, spent a day “putting the finishing touches on the ‘Great Reset,’ a global bankers dictatorship.” (This inside scoop is the reason why LaRouchians are now protesting under a banner that depicts Her Majesty the Queen, raging beneath the caption, “Trump Won! The Bitch Lost.”)

The LaRouche organisation is the Galapagos Islands of American politics. Everything is exaggerated and peculiar, but it tells you a lot about what’s happening on the mainland. It began as a fairly ordinary Marxist revolutionary group in Manhattan. (When researching its early history in the New York Public Library, I found Bernie Sanders on the mailing list.) In 1973 it underwent a convulsive transition into full cult mode, when its leader, a pipe-smoking ex-Quaker formerly employed as a management consultant to the shoe industry, decided that some of his followers had been brainwashed to kill him by the CIA. 

From this point, they specialised in harassment and outlandish accusation. Larouchians planted stories in foreign newspapers alleging that Henry Kissinger had murdered a waiter in Acapulco. They charged Noam Chomsky with conspiring to blow up New York with an atomic device. They asserted that William Rees-Mogg was responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. Their nonsense and madness was disseminated in their surprisingly glossy publications, whose pages now read like the photogravure ancestors of today’s conspiracy theory websites. Today, the organisation is enthusiastically pro-Putin, pro-China and pro-Trump. (One of their correspondents received White House accreditation in 2017, and members are sometimes invited to speak at conferences in Beijing.)

Their appetite for stunts has not deserted them. Last October, a town hall meeting held by the New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was interrupted by a wide-eyed young woman who claimed to be an environmental activist with a plan to solve the climate crisis. “Eat the babies,” she declared, in an echo of Swift’s A Modest Proposal. Ocasio-Cortez, presumably thinking that the speaker was suffering from some kind of mental illness, treated her kindly. But the moment went viral when online posters suggested, falsely, that the Congresswoman had concurred with this cannibalistic suggestion. “Seems like a normal AOC supporter to me,” cracked Donald Trump Jnr. “AOC is a wack job,” his dad tweeted back. The LaRouchians celebrated the success of their stunt. A day later, I found footage from one of their meetings at which the same young woman spoke, earnestly and haltingly, about the dangers of listening to Greta Thunberg. I hope, one year later, she has found her way out of the cult.

Lyndon LaRouche died last year, four years short of his century. But his golden period, if that’s the right term, ended in 1986, when his mansion in Leesburg, Virginia, was raided by the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI. LaRouche was sentenced to 15 years in prison for scheming to defraud the tax authorities and deliberately defaulting on more than $30 million in loans from his supporters. The prosecutor in the case was the young Robert Mueller. Here, with this coincidence, is a lesson from history. One that tells us something about the tenacity of men who are used to bending reality and encouraging others to follow. LaRouche went to jail. But being locked in a cell didn’t stop him making another bid for the Presidency. Or asking supporters to send him their money. 

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