Shortly after the 1980 Democratic convention LaRouche informed his followers that the NCLC was in the two-party system to stay. Having already disbanded the U.S. Labor Party, he now announced a "multi-candidate political action committee" that would work to eventually capture control of the Democratic Party. He called it the National Democratic Policy Committee (NDPC), a name falsely suggesting a link to the official party leadership.
The NDPC got off to a roaring start with a rally in Huntsville, Alabama, to Hang Paul Volcker (the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board and a favorite target of the ultra-right). But before the LaRouchians could develop this campaign very far, they became preoccupied with figurative lynchings in their own ranks. First LaRouche declared war on his own chief of staff, Gus Kalimtgis, blaming him for the New Hampshire debacle. Kalimtgis and several other top NCLC members quit. Then LaRouche went after the Detroit regional leadership, accusing them of insufficient zeal. Virtually the entire Detroit membership resigned. In the midst of this, the organization was able to field only one Democratic primary candidate in 1981—Melvin Klenetsky for mayor of New York.
New York's Democrats could have taken vigorous action against this incursion, setting a nationwide example of how to handle LaRouche. Local leaders could have filed suit to keep Klenetsky off the ballot, on grounds that the NDPC's racism and anti-Semitism violated everything the Democratic Party stood for. They could have challenged his petitions. They could have denied him the floor at clubhouse candidates' forums. They could have urged the legitimate Democratic candidates not to participate in debates with him.
But none of this was done. As U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D.-N.Y.) said, recalling the Klenetsky campaign in a 1986 speech about LaRouche: "To the disgrace of our party—the oldest political party on earth, and from the first a democratic party—no effort . . . was made to keep these fascists out of our ranks and off our ballot. To the contrary, rumor had it that in some circles they were welcomed: the more confusion, the better."
Moynihan was referring to the fact that Mayor Edward I. Koch's 1981 reelection campaign had regarded Klenetsky as a useful buffer between the mayor and Assemblyman Frank Barbaro, the main challenger. The Koch campaign encouraged Klenetsky's participation in public forums and debates to prevent the public from seeing the campaign as a one-on-one contest between Koch and Barbaro and to prevent the latter’s criticisms of Koch from being given a serious hearing.
When Barbaro challenged Klenetsky's petitions, he received no help from Koch. When Barbaro protested against Klenetsky's inclusion in the debates, Koch insisted that Klenetsky be included. When Barbaro raised the issue of Klenetsky's membership in an anti-Semitic organization, Koch remained silent.
Koch could not claim ignorance. Reports of LaRouche's anti-Semitism had been widespread in the New York media for years. The Anti-Defamation League had denounced the LaRouche organization for injecting "anti-Semitic poison into the American political bloodstream." The Manhattan weekly Our Town, usually read carefully at City Hall, had published a twelve-part series delving into LaRouche's neo-Nazi proclivities. Koch's own police department had prepared several intelligence reports that carefully documented LaRouche's extremism.
Klenetsky was careful not to seem to be a tool of Mayor Koch. His campaign literature included the slogan "Stop Crazy Eddie—His Policies Are Insane." But in the debates and newspaper interviews his main role was to redbait Barbaro, something that Koch hesitated to do on his own. The pro-Koch New York Times went along with this tactic to defeat real estate industry foe Barbaro. Although a 1979 Times editorial had denounced the LaRouchians as a menace, this fact disappeared into an Orwellian memory hole. Klenetsky was given what for a fringe candidate was an extraordinary amount of coverage, depicting him as almost a legitimate Democrat. The Times quoted him as warning New Yorkers that Barbaro's backers "include the bulk of the Socialist and Communist Party forces in New York." In an even lower blow, the Times reported two days before the election that Klenetsky had accused "some Barbaro supporters of anti-Semitism"! A pleased Mayor Koch then told the Times: "Klenetsky, he's not as bad as his rhetoric; Barbaro is as bad as his rhetoric." Klenetsky ended up with the votes of 25,000 New Yorkers—5 percent of the primary turnout.
The Klenetsky campaign set the stage for the national growth of the NDPC, by establishing the principle that its candidates could run in Democratic primaries as legitimate Democrats without significant opposition. It was a cynical LaRouche masterstroke: Use a Jewish follower to drive the opening wedge, and do it in the heart of enemy territory. Psychologically, LaRouche was operating from a position of strength—his utter contempt for the Koch machine as shortsighted "empiricists" who could be manipulated at will. Indeed, with Koch compromised, LaRouche received an additional bonus: the silence of the Jewish community. Not one mainstream Jewish organization spoke out against the legitimization of Klenetsky and the NDPC. In effect, many had acquiesced in the new dogma of neoconservatism: It's okay to ally oneself with fascists against the main enemy, the left.
In 1982 the NDPC sponsored several dozen candidates around the country. Klenetsky ran again, this time as Senator Moynihan's sole challenger in the New York primary. Moynihan, one of the Democratic Party's few intellectuals, took seriously the fact that the LaRouche movement represented a homegrown fascist ideology. Although Klenetsky was no threat to his reelection, he decided it would be a disgrace to sit back and allow the LaRouchians to gain further legitimacy in the party. He challenged every one of Klenetsky's 30,000 petition signatures, narrowly failing to remove him from the ballot. He also roundly denounced the LaRouche movement's anti-Semitism, and ended up spending $1.3 million on the primary.
Klenetsky waged a vigorous campaign. He obtained the endorsement of one of the state's most powerful labor leaders, John Cody, president of Teamster Local 282 on Long Island, as well as several Laborers International Union officials. He raised over $100,000 for newspaper, radio, and TV advertising, including a half-hour on New York City's ABC affiliate. In a half-page ad in the Amsterdam News, New York's most important black weekly, he accused Moynihan of racism (in spite of the LaRouche organization's own ties to the Ku Klux Klan) and listed endorsements by black ministers across the state. On primary day Klenetsky polled 162,000 votes statewide, of which 95,000 came from New York City. His statewide vote percentage was three times that of his 1981 mayoral primary campaign. His New York City vote total was four times his mayoral primary total.
Moynihan recalled being unable to get media help in unmasking Klenetsky. Most newspapers dismissed the LaRouchians as kooks, he said. Only two dailies in the state published editorials warning about what the NDPC candidate stood for. Compounding this media problem, Moynihan received a letter from the Committee on Decent Unbiased Campaign Tactics (CONDUCT) demanding how he could defend calling Klenetsky anti-Semitic. CONDUCT was concerned, the letter said, "that issues of bigotry would become an issue in anyone's campaign." CONDUCT was no LaRouche front organization but a coalition of prominent New Yorkers including R. Peter Straus, Rabbi Balfour Brickner, Bishop Paul Moore, Jr., and Howard Squadron, former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. "It was bad enough to be running against a fascist," Moynihan said. "What if the respectable people of New York suddenly took the fascist's side?" Moynihan's attorney prepared a several-hundred-page brief, and CONDUCT finally exonerated Moynihan. (According to Straus, the watchdog committee also called in Klenetsky, questioned him closely, and found him to be "far off base.")
With the exception of Moynihan, Democratic Party leaders across the country ignored the NDPC during 1982. This contributed to strong electoral showings for several LaRouche candidates. Steve Douglas polled 19 percent in the Pennsylvania gubernatorial primary, coming in second out of four. A Minnesota NDPC congressional candidate—Pat O'Reilly, former state president of the American Agricultural Movement—picked up 32 percent. Debra Freeman, the terror of Baltimore's alleged Zionist slave traders, made her second congressional bid, this time against incumbent Barbara Mikulski. Freeman replaced Jew-baiting with lesbian-baiting, publicizing allegations of an affair between Mikulski and a staff aide. Freeman's radio ads featured a babble of monkeys, baboons, and hyenas, supposedly representing Mikulski's moral character. "Vote Freeman, Vote Straight Democrat," the NDPC's literature urged. With these tactics, Freeman polled 19 percent on primary day.
Only one major newspaper in the nation took the NDPC's 1982 gains seriously. The Baltimore Evening Sun published a hard-hitting series on Freeman's political views and campaign finances. "We would like to hope," said a Sun editorial, "that even the 19 percent who voted for her were unaware of the dark impulses and exploitations that lurked behind her campaign." The voters got the message: In a race for Baltimore City Council President the next year, Freeman came in last of five, with only 2 percent of the vote.
LaRouche was heartened by the nationwide results in 1982 and decided to attract new blood into the NDPC via a grassroots "candidates' movement." His followers advertised for and recruited hundreds of Americans with ultraconservative views to run for public office. These candidates—senior citizens, small businessmen, blue-collar workers, and, especially, farmers—were given quickie indoctrination sessions and thrown into the primaries. The NDPC didn't expect them to understand and defend the full LaRouche ideology, only simple points like the war on drugs, beam weapons, emergency aid for farmers. The NDPC had nothing to lose if some of the candidates proved unreliable. But if they remained loyal, LaRouche could take credit for their successes.
He carried his plan to the 1983 American Agricultural Movement convention in Nashville and a subsequent AAM rally in Georgia. Farmers were suffering through their worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and thousands had lost their farms to the banks. LaRouche proposed his candidates' movement as a way to fight back: Farmers must "stop seeking out politicians and become politicians." They must "run early, run often, run for anything from dogcatcher to senator." The Eastern Establishment would try to stop the movement through media smears and vote fraud, but LaRouche had the answer to that: Just "keep adding candidates" until the Establishment's control mechanisms break down. LaRouche estimated that "one thousand candidates around the country" could provide the nucleus of a mass movement to alter the face of American politics.
By June 1983 the NDPC had recruited over 200 candidates. Many of them ran as "beam weapons" slates to promote President Reagan's new Star Wars policy. A Wichita, Kansas, woman decided this was God's will. She quit her job to run for the City Commission, to "open up channels to develop an 'E' beam in space." The movement attracted other obvious eccentrics, but it also attracted college professors, nuclear engineers, trade unionists, and scores of farm activists. By the end of the year the NDPC had fielded over 600 candidates in 27 states. According to NDPC chairman Warren Hamerman, they polled a total of 700,000 votes and 27 were elected.
Hamerman's figures were not as impressive as they sounded. Most of the candidates ran for Democratic county committee seats with no power or influence. Those who were elected mostly ran unopposed. Very few did any significant campaigning. In California an NDPC member was elected to a local sanitation board and another to a local school board. But the school board winner, an elderly man, later repudiated the LaRouchians. When the NDPC attempted to capture local school boards in New York and New Jersey, they stirred up a hornet's nest. Parents, teachers, community organizations, and local Democrats in upper Manhattan united under the slogan "Stop the Fascist Cult." Senator Moynihan supported the coalition and even dragooned Mayor Koch into co-sponsoring an anti-LaRouche press conference at City Hall. (Koch, clearly uncomfortable, edged away from the cameras after mumbling a one-liner, "They're the pits." He well knew the ability of LaRouche to exact revenge on bachelor political figures.) In New Jersey local newspapers conducted an intensive educational campaign against LaRouche's "beam weapons" school board slate. No NDPC school board candidates were elected in either state.
Incidents during the New Jersey contest suggest that the NDPC was sometimes recruiting candidates on a fraudulent basis. Bessie Mae Coleman, eighty-seven, told a reporter that the NDPC had never obtained her permission to enter her name as a candidate. Harding Evans, Sr., a fifty-four-year-old handyman, said that when the NDPC asked him to run, he thought they were ordinary Democrats. He and several other candidates dropped out when they learned the facts. New Jersey newspapers highlighted these incidents, but most of the 90-odd NDPC candidates stayed in the race, apparently willing to be associated with the LaRouche cause.
LaRouche ran for President again in 1984, selecting as his running mate a farmer, Billy Davis of Mississippi. Repeating his 1976 tactic, he encouraged the maximum number of grass-roots candidates who would work for his election while working for their own. The candidates' movement was re-christened the "NDPC's citizens' militia." According to New Solidarity, recruits were encouraged to attend "cadre schools" to learn the "science" of politics and listen to seminars on the "nature of the Russian empire.”
The number of NDPC candidates in 1984 jumped to over 2,000 in more than 30 states. Once again the media ferreted out a few duds but ignored the fact that many well-educated people of apparently sound mind—people with careers and families—were willing to run on the NDPC ticket. These recruits were not all political novices. Some had prior experience in the major parties or in the American Party. They agreed with LaRouche on some things, disagreed on others, but were willing to call themselves LaRouche Democrats and support beam weapons. They also were willing to accept the risk of being LaRouche-baited in local newspapers.[FOOTNOTE 1]
Although no surveys were conducted of the LaRouche candidates movement, two Furman University professors did the next-best thing. In 1986 they interviewed a random sample of the thousands of LaRouche campaign donors listed with the Federal Election Commission. Their survey found that LaRouche contributors tended to be "populist" conservatives, "profoundly uncomfortable with modern America and susceptible to conspiratorial explanations of their distress." To many, LaRouche's views offered "a plausible answer" to the question of who controls their lives.
"Nearly all," the report said, "now claim to be conservative, with half labeling themselves 'very' or 'extremely' conservative." Many expressed affinity not only for LaRouche but also for traditional rightist groups such as the John Birch Society. There was a "uniform dislike" for Ralph Nader and the American Civil Liberties Union. Asked whom they regarded as especially dangerous, over half cited "figures prominent in conspiracy theories . . . such as communists, drug dealers, Jews, bankers, intellectuals and the mass media." Two-thirds were fifty-five or older, male, of WASP or German extraction. Most were lower-middle-class people whose income and status lagged behind those of average donors to other right-wing causes. They seemed, the report concluded, "to be the remnant of the 'small-town America' of a generation ago."
This report was remarkable on two counts. First, it revealed a strong similarity between those surveyed and LaRouche's own parents. Second, it suggested that LaRouche had been successful in his long-range plan to reach precisely such people. In the mid-1970s he had begun to weave themes into his propaganda from the traditional rightist groups referred to in the survey, especially the John Birch Society and the Liberty Lobby. His 1980 book, What Every Conservative Should Know about Communism, identified these people as a major part of his "constituency," They were the "patriotic conservatives" as opposed to phony conservative elitists like William F. Buckley. They were the "truly moral" conservatives who despised hippies, Playboy magazine, the Trilateral Commission, and the bestial advocates of "negritude." Many of these patriots, he said, were subscribers to The Spotlight, and a fair number had read W. Cleon Skousen's The Naked Capitalist. LaRouche called them the " 'Gideon's Army' of American nationalism today." He wrote about them affectionately, but without illusions regarding their intellectual limitations. He estimated their numbers at upward of a quarter million Americans—the "opinion leaders," he said, for a "similarly inclined population more than a scorefold larger."
As the 1984 primary season unfolded, it seemed as if the NDPC's grass-roots candidates were indeed beginning to establish themselves as opinion leaders to influence broader populist circles. The vote percentages for NDPC candidates rose dramatically, with dozens receiving over 20 percent in every region of the country. In Ohio the NDPC ran candidates in a majority of the state's 21 congressional districts. In the 7th CD the NDPC won its first contested Democratic nomination for major public office when family farmer Don Scott trounced the regular Democrat 23,000 to 15,000. This CD was heavily agricultural, centered on the small industrial city of Springfield. When Newsweek's editors were seeking a typical American community to celebrate in their fiftieth-anniversary issue, this is the city they picked
Scott, as described in NDPC literature, was as typical as the district: a "seventh generation" farmer, married with two daughters, a 4-H Club adviser, and member of the Covenant Lutheran Church, St. Paris Lions Club, National Farmers Organization, Knights of Pythias, and Champaign County Pork Council. The Columbus Dispatch noted that his victory "could go down in history as the first major step in legitimizing" the LaRouche organization. But the national media ignored the story. In the November general election the incumbent Republican spent $194,000 and Scott only $8,000, yet Scott received 46,000 votes— about 24 percent of the total. (By comparison, Mondale received 63,000 votes, or 31 percent, against Reagan in the same district.) Scott later was sent by the NDPC to Europe to speak before LaRouchian audiences.
Scott was not the only NDPC candidate on the Ohio ballot in November. In the 4th CD they picked up an uncontested nomination. And in the 8th CD, the NDPC candidate received 47 percent in spite of an effort by the regular Democrat to expose his extremism. Meanwhile, in North Carolina, the NDPC candidate for the U.S. Senate gained 127,000 votes (15 percent) in a three-way race, coming in second after former governor James Hunt. In Oregon the NDPC's U.S. senatorial candidate won 24 percent in a two-way race. In Pennsylvania the NDPC contested twelve congressional seats, receiving 46 percent in the 17th CD and over 20 percent in four others.
In California an NDPC congressional candidate won 49 percent in a two-way race. In Michigan the NDPC candidate in one CD received 26 percent in a three-way race, coming in second, while in another CD the NDPC candidate polled 33 percent in a two-way race. In Georgia an NDPC congressional candidate—an airline pilot—gained 24 percent in a four-way race, coming in second. He then won 34 percent in the runoff.
The NDPC later claimed that its candidates, apart from LaRouche himself, received close to two million votes in 1984, and that 280 NDPC members were elected to Democratic county committee seats in various states. However, most NDPC county committee members did not become active in the party, and nowhere did the NDPC build caucuses within the local party organizations. In Illinois's Du Page County, where dozens of LaRouchians were elected, the party leadership expected a major battle at the first post-election meeting. But the NDPC members just "sat like bumps on a log," according to Truman Kirkpatrick, a local party official. Most of them never came back.
The NDPC had more urgent concerns than building county caucuses. Its fundraisers were working around the clock to feed the maw of LaRouche's presidential campaign. Officially, LaRouche spent about $6 million on the campaign, including $500,000 in federal matching funds. It was later estimated that his organization raised over $30 million that year through various fund-raising entities.
As in 1980, LaRouche made heavy use of broadcast advertising by purchasing fourteen half-hour segments on network television as well as thousands of local radio and TV spots. In his network speeches, taped at his colonial mansion in Virginia, he called for sweeping economic changes to pay for a gigantic military buildup. He warned that "Henry Kissinger and his friends" were the cause of America's problems and that he himself had the solution. After an especially abrasive LaRouche speech that fall, TV stations around the country received close to a thousand viewer complaints.
LaRouche was on the ballot in 13 state primaries but received only 178,000 votes. The only primary in which he received a significant percentage was in North Dakota, where he and Gary Hart were the only candidates on the ballot. By that point LaRouche had been ruled ineligible for more matching funds, because of his failure to achieve 20 percent of the vote in any primary. He saw North Dakota as his one chance to restore his matching-funds eligibility. According to New Solidarity, LaRouche bought 998 radio spots, 127 thirty-second TV spots, and a full-page ad in a Bismarck daily. His ads also promoted the gubernatorial campaign of Anna Belle Bourgois, a farm wife and NDPC organizer, in an apparent attempt to piggyback off her wholesome image. The result was 12 percent (4,018 votes) for LaRouche and 12 percent (5,180 votes) for Mrs. Bourgois. It probably represented the maximum percentage of conscious votes for LaRouche ever. When he ran as an independent in 19 states that November, his total vote amounted to only 79,000. In the 1984 primary and general elections combined, LaRouche spent almost $25 per vote.
His failure at the polls did not discourage the NDPC grass-roots candidates. In 1985, an off year for elections generally, the NDPC claimed to have 500 candidates running for public office and Democratic Party posts. Once again Democratic Party leaders and local Democratic organizations prevaricated. And once again New York's Mayor Koch, facing another reelection campaign, attempted to make use of the NDPC. His aides urged various reporters to give coverage to the NDPC's Phil Rubinstein and Farrakhan supporter Fred Newman, both on the mayoral primary ballot. The Daily News produced a frothy piece, "Hey, Guys, We're in It Too," in which Rubinstein and Newman were described as offering voters "a breath of fresh air." Koch personally called for their inclusion in the mayoral debates, in the interest of "fairness." His obvious goal was to muddy the voters' choice between himself and his two major challengers, City Council president Carol Bellamy and Harlem assemblyman Herman Farrell. (Not to be outdone in the fairness game, Bellamy also expressed her hope that the minor candidates would be included.) But this time, the media didn't bite the bait. Koch didn't have a Barbaro to scare them with. Rubinstein remained a minor candidate and received only a minuscule vote.
The NDPC problem had receded in New York politics because LaRouche had moved most of his New York followers, including Melvin Klenetsky, down to Leesburg, Virginia, to run his new national headquarters. But the NDPC continued to grow—without any serious resistance—almost everywhere else. It was only a matter of time before a combination of circumstances and the NDPC's hard work produced a major electoral breakthrough. That breakthrough came in 1986, in the heartland of blue-collar America, Illinois.
 New Solidarity articles and interviews in 1983-84 portrayed the NDPC grassroots candidates as having a variety of political motives and fixations. An elderly woman in California complained that the Democratic Party had been turned into the "party of the giveaways.'' She had voted for Reagan in 1980, but when he was "turned around" by the Eastern Establishment she decided to support LaRouche as the man with "the ideas to guard our country." A Florida trade union official said he'd sensed there was a conspiracy controlling the country ever since Truman fired MacArthur. Then he bought a LaRouchian tract at an airport. "I felt like I had been granted my salvation; that somebody else was in touch with some of the same things I was." An Oregon school board candidate said that he'd always wanted to transcend the "banality" of his "backwater community" and fight the good fight against censorship, mistrust, cynicism, pessimism, prejudice, drugs, television, and thermonuclear terror. A North Carolina group home administrator was more down to earth: He just wanted to bring Star Wars R&D jobs to his hometown.
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