[Sherman Skolnick died quietly in 2006, but his Skolnicks Report website remains as the single greatest repository of what the marks call "conspiracy theory" yet compiled online. A fellowship in Chicago in 2002 offered a unique opportunity to write about a bunch of "third-rail" concepts and personalities while getting paid for it. But I ran across the text while looking for something else today, and so I figured I'd post it now for posterity. What follows is the Skolnick thing, followed by short bits of variable relevance. Of course, none of it never found its way into print anywhere, and was maybe not intended to.]
I’ve never been fond of airplanes. Their appeal defies my understanding. Whenever I fly, my sinuses get congested, my ears get stuffy and the pressure is painful. The nasty specter of plane crashes only reinforces my fear of flying, and this was true long before last fall. Many people have stopped flying because of 9/11—the turbulent drop of airline revenues makes that clear—but, for my money, no one has done more to keep me on the ground that Sherman Skolnick. Almost all of the death that befalls the noted figures in his body of work is the result of plane crashes, some of which happen in Chicago. I was actually half-expecting to die on the plane coming up here, just because of whom I was coming here to meet. (Imagine dying en route to interview someone who would have stiffed me had I survived—that would really suck!)
Just as the most reactionary and militaristic elements of societies around the world have made great strides in credibility because of the War (according to Chomsky, who holds that model true for all wars), so too have others within the old political spectrum, which seems now completely artificial. No one qualifies more, perhaps, to be considered the epitome of this reconfiguration than Sherman H. Skolnick of Chicago, who’s been patrolling the most remote fringes of acceptable opinion since before Osama bin Laden had facial hair. I wouldn’t vouch for anything he’s written (or anyone else’s, for that matter, but my own), but he seems not to care what anyone thinks of his work. The work is its own reward. Something drives Skolnick to almost revel in his persona non grata status among even the most extreme members of the press. What that something is remains unidentified because he won’t consent to be interviewed, being too busy detailing “The Overthrow of the American Republic” to handle individual requests.
Skolnick describes himself as simply a “reporter.” Reporter of what, exactly? This is where things become complicated, which suits a man like him just fine, complication being his millieu. Whereas most reporters prefer to take an otherwise complex and convoluted combination of events and reduce them to the simplest possible ideas, Skolnick tends to move in the opposite direction. He starts with stories whose essential “truth” has allegedly already been established by the establishment press and builds from there, constructing complex lattice-works of unlikely associations between purported political rivals. The America of Skolnick’s conception is a minefield of supposition, and nothing is what it’s said to be by the “liars and whores” of the “oil-soaked, spy-ridden monopoly press.”
Skolnick has lived his entire life in Chicago, in the home his parents bought at 9800 South Oglesby Avenue. After being stricken with polio as a boy, his parents appealed to then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt (who also suffered from the disease), resulting in his direct intervention to place Skolnick in an experimental program that he credits with his survival. One could speculate as to how much assistance FDR would have provided if he’d been able to see into the future, where Skolnick cites FDR’s abolition of the gold standard as a major episode in the establishment of our present financial structure, based on floating exchange-rates resulting from the demise of Bretton Woods, a system of fixed rates that Chomsky and LaRouche have denoted as a key aspect of post-war economic stability and “real” growth worldwide.
Skolnick founded the Citizens’ Committee to Clean Up the Courts in 1963. He’s hosted the show “Broadsides,” which airs on Chicago channel 21, since 1995. The fact that it’s a cable access show is hardly surprising, given the nature of its content, but he claims a viewership as high as 400,000 people, not counting those who watch clips on the internet, clips with names like “Bankruptcy Court Rackets,” “Bush Fraud and Bin Laden,” “Corruption, Chicago to the White House” and “Russian Mysteries.” His hotline—773-731-1100—has been up since 1971. With the website, the show and the hotline, one could say that Skolnick is a multimedia mini-mogul, a renaissance man of the pre-apocalyptic age, an Ironside of sorts for those of us who miss Raymond Burr. Sadly, one of the funniest men in American media has no national contract.
“Mr. Skolnick is full of righteous indignation and careless with his charges. Most often what he says has been ignored over the years,” wrote former Clinton civil attorney Robert Bennett in a 2001 review of Kenneth Manaster’s Illinois Justice: The Scandal of 1969 and the Rise of John Paul Stevens, which chronicles not only the case that helped propel a then-unknown Stevens to the Us Supreme Court within seven years, but also the start of Skolnick’s public career.
Skolnick filed a motion in alleging that members of the state Supreme Court had traded the dismissal of an indictment against a former Department of Revenue director for Illinois, Theodore J. Isaacs, for stock in a bank connected to Isaacs. Skolnick’s site spins it thus: “Facing jail and on appeal to their court, the banker, the, Theodore J. Isaacs, won his criminal appeal by bribing most of the high court judges with stock in his nearby bank.” Having failed to disclose his sources, he was imprisoned for contempt of court, and “The imprisoning of Skolnick touched off a public commotion and the chief justice and an associate justice of the high court resigned . . . a third accused high court judge suddenly died in the ruckus and Skolnick was vindicated.” Skolnick’ proclaims the resulting probe “the biggest judicial bribery scandal in US history.” Bennett writes that “The commission was to complete its investigation and report in about six weeks, and, incredibly, it did so. The report found that two Justices of the court had improperly engaged in conduct carrying the appearance of impropriety,” though adding that “It was more clearly hubris than venality that brought them down.” It was clearly more Skolnick than anything, he and his gift for finessing minutia.
Skolnick later accused former Illinois governor Otto Kerner, Jr. (at that point a federal appeals judge based in Chicago) of having taken bribes from the same bank; Kerner, along with Isaacs, was later convicted, “the highest level sitting federal judge sent to prison in U.S. history.” On these occasions the work of Skolnick was validated by “the process”—he claims partial credit for the 20 judges and 40 lawyers who were jailed for bribery between 1983 and 1993. But his writings pertaining to the national and international scene are what have earned him a place in the heart of those who intuit great and lethal chicanery on the highest levels of power.
On those rare occasions when he’s mentioned at all, Sherman Skolnick’s name is usually lumped in with those of other notables in the “conspiracy theory” scene. A Montreal Gazette article from July of 1995, “A Long List of Conspiracy Feeders,” places Skolnick atop a list that also includes Richard Mellon Scaife, Jerry Falwell, Lyndon LaRouche, several British tabloid reporters and the American Spectator, all linked by their disdain for Bill Clinton. Most of these people, given their nature, don’t trust anyone, including each other, and rightfully resist depiction as part of any group, especially one that is by the standard definition irrelevant to “real” news.
The concept of “conspiracy theory” is rooted in the operative norms of traditional media on both ends of the spectrum. Professional journalists trade on their own credibility as individuals and institutions; they must be careful not to report anything as fact that can’t be verified as such, especially in regard to politics. For a given proposition to be presumed true, the proof of its truth must exist outside the reporter, who must find and disseminate that proof to justify the story. The cost of doing otherwise can often be the ruination of a career. But sometimes the needed proof does not exist—maybe it was obscured deliberately to conceal the truth, or maybe it never existed at all. Notions, concepts and theories that cannot be proven explicitly through documentation of some form or another are more or less off-limits in the mainstream press, as well as most of the alternative press. Even a paid pundit (opinion-giver) tries to avoid giving the impression that he is a “crackpot,” an amateur, a liar or otherwise biased against the reality of a given situation. That sort of thing does not work—not for long, anyway. The fringes of America’s intellectual scene are densely populated with people who have exposed their ideological business in a way that could not be undone when the inevitable “blowback” occurred, and now they go unrecognized, unquoted and unengaged by serious people.
September 11 shifted the paradigm to the extent that we are now in the grip of events that went largely unforeseen—or at least unreported—before that day. Although the rise of “Islamic fundamentalism” was easily forecast, given the various fatwas and open declarations of jihad of recent years, the idea that such tendencies in the relatively obscure Arabic world would lead holistically to a massive terrorist strike in the broadly daylit skies of a major American city was something that many Americans first gave thought to on “Black Tuesday.” The writers whose works served to illuminate the dynamics of our new war were suddenly prescient; the truth of their assertions mattered less at first than the existence of any information pertaining to “the new reality.”
Using the phrase “conspiracy theory” in Skolnick’s presence, especially in relation to him, evokes a reaction chock-full of righteous indignation. He reacts as if called, say, a “self-hating Jew,” which he has because of his stance in opposition to Israel military policy. (So, too has Chomsky—both septuagenarian Jews place the Oslo process, Yitzhak Rabin’s subsequent assassination and the second Intifada in the context of a steady rightward drift in Israeli policy for most of its existence, accelerated in the ‘90s leading to the reign of Ariel Sharon. More about that later.) I don’t blame him; the phrase is a maximum slur. Its application to any journalist all but disqualifies him from respectability.
The ideological clique organized around the Z Magazine website (www.zmag.org) is about as close as one gets to a central repository of leftist thought in America’s intellectual scene. Their energies are typically spent wholly on the US government and its various policy failures. Recently, however, these arch-leftists (who are themselves often counted among conspiracists) have put significant time into their attempts at dispelling the myths propagated in the conspiracy scene, with a great bit of venom reserved for Skolnick specifically in writings that have since been removed from the site. ZNet founders Michael Albert and Steven Shalom (who tout their socialist leanings) co-authored a paper that seeks to make clear the distinction between “conspiracy theorists” like Skolnick and “institutional theorists” like themselves.
“The difference is between . . . trying to understand some broad claim about society by understanding its institutional dynamics and . . . trying to understand some singular event by understanding the activities of the direct actors in it,” they write in “Conspiracies Or Institutions: 9-11 and Beyond.” (http://www.zmag.org/content/Instructionals/shalalbcon.cfm.)
While conceding early on that “Any particular conspiracy theory may or may not be true,” they add that “a conspiracy theorist is not someone who simply accepts the truth of some specific conspiracies. Rather, a conspiracy theorist is someone with a certain general methodological approach and set of priorities,” as opposed to the institutionalist, for whom “the behavior of rogue elements is far less important than the ways in which the defining political, social, and economic forms lead to particular behaviors.”
While the majority of the text is devoted to debunking some of the numerous theories of 9/11, the authors pause for reflection. Broader points are made concerning the psychological harm posed by indulging in conspiracism in times, such as these, when the full engagement of citizens would be preferred: “For social activists, it makes sense to develop institutional theories because they uncover lasting features with ubiquitous recurring implications. . . . With conspiracy theories, regardless of the type of conspiracy identified, the balance of attention is inverted. The specific deceptive actions of rogue or at least greatly duplicitous and deceptive actors are highlighted.”
The piece concludes by outlining six ways in which conspiracy theories undermine the left’s political goals: 1) They “often lead Leftists to establish connections to or tolerate alliances with right-wing crazies.” 2) They “often lead to the foolish glorification of people who were supposedly not in on the conspiracy, but whom Leftists ought not to be glorifying.” 3) They “lead us to counterproductive and wrong priorities.” 4) They “cause the Left not to be taken seriously.” 5) “Not only is it a way to rationalize horrible injustices and suffering without calling basic institutions into account, it is part and parcel of thinking that injustice is an inevitable part of the human equation.” [Isn’t it?] 6) “Finally, conspiracy theories lead to bizarre judgments of who one’s enemies are. . . . Such confusions don’t help the struggle for social justice.”
Skolnick paints his home, Chicago, as being almost the epicenter of high-level dirty tricks in post-war American politics, more so than even what could be called “conventional wisdom.” Chicago was the city that swung the balance of the 1960 Presidential election to Jack Kennedy and was also, according to Skolnick, slated to be the original site of Kennedy’s murder, which he claims was “a public execution” perpetrated using “military-style triangulation fire.” Who did it? Although the larger forces at work are (like everything) a matter of conjecture—maybe the CIA/FBI, maybe the Vatican, maybe the mafia—he seems pretty sure that the fatal shooter was future Louisiana congressman Hale Boggs, father of ABC’s Cokie Roberts. (Boggs later died in—yes!—a plane crash in Alaska.) He counts Dan Rather, who was near the manhole cover that Boggs fired from, and Robert MacNeil, formerly of the NacNeil/Lehrer report, who was in the Texas Schoolbook Depository, among those journalists whose silence on the matter was rewarded with high-level media positions.
(While we’re on the subject of media, here’s Skolnick’s take on how one obtains such a position in the traditional way: “In most of the bigger markets, such as Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, you have to buy the job through the local, handful of celebrity lawyers. The terms are as follows: in a three-year contract, paying a big buck, you have to agree to pay under the table, a minimum of 15 per cent, in front, in cash, of the total amount you would receive in the first year of the contract. Of that, it is to be divided up as follows: one third to the union business agent, one third to the celebrity lawyer, and one third to the news director or station manager.” Dark-skinned blacks and ugly women need not apply.)
Like LaRouche, Skolnick believes that the primary division among domestic elites is loyalty: their framework is based on degree of loyalty to the United States, as opposed to the British monarchy, which they feel is secretly trying to undermine American sovereignty as part of a takeover plot. Whereas Skolnick tars the Bushes as agents of British rule (claiming that George HW Bush shares a joint account with the Queen at her “personal” bank, Earl’s Courtts), LaRouche considers them a crucial defense against more sinister foes, including Jimmy Carter, John McCain and Joe Lieberman (whom LaRouche claims was put in his position by William Buckley and the Bronfman “crime” family, also responsible for McCain’s father’s fortune).
In lieu of direct quotes, I quote his website. Having always regarded politics as analogous to professional wrestling (what with its “fake” rivalries and sycophantic press corps), I’m almost unfairly well-disposed to deal with his work, which requires a total suspension of belief in order to not be simply horrified at the nefarious doings detailed on Skolnick’s Report. Once that belief is properly suspended (alcohol works), the site as a whole emerges as perhaps the finest piece of political satire in modern history. Of course, if even a fifth of this stuff is true then—well, then the rest is probably true, too.
Among the “highlights”:
*His 1991 article in Spotlight magazine (which the ADL considers a front for anti-Semitic interests) claimed that the Bank of Commerce and Credit International (BCCI) had bribed over one-fourth of the US Congress, though Skolnick’s list of 108 congressmen and 28 senators has never seen the light of day.
* He suggests that the death of former mayor Richard J. Daley on December 20, 1976 (of “a purported ‘heart attack’”) may have been caused by a swine flu shot given the day before, as part of a longstanding political feud between Daley and local rival “Big Jim Thompson.”
*He charges that such presumed bastions of liberalism as The Nation, NPR, PBS and Pacifica radio are fronts for the CIA and affiliated parties.
* Former President Bill Clinton is (by way of former Arkansas governor Winthrop Rockefeller) an illegitimate great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller. His sexual appetites make him ideal for high office since he can be reliably blackmailed to stay in line. His mentor is George HW Bush, “head of the secret political police” (a reference to Bush’s stint as CIA director), who used the Perot factor to cover his desire to lose the 1992 election to his “protégé,” who kept the seat of symbolic power warm for Bush Jr. Also, Bill and Hillary Clinton were both trained from their youth to work for the CIA, before they ever met each other; Bill is sterile and Chelsea’s father is Webster Hubbell, who chose prison over betrayal of a man who didn’t issue him a pardon until his last week in office.
*His book, The Secret History of Airplane Sabotage, has long been out of print—in fact, it never was in print—because his publisher was owned by the Rockefellers, who stopped it at the presses. It “detailed” the deaths of a planeload of minor players in the Watergate scandal, including E. Howard Hunt’s wife Dorothy, who had allegedly just finished successfully blackmailing then-President Nixon with knowledge of his “complicity” in the JFK assassination. A United Air Lines plane carrying Hunt and 11 others crashed during landing in Chicago in December, 1972. Skolnick obtained 1,300 pages of documents and photos from the National Transportation Safety Board, which he claimed in a later lawsuit provided proof of sabotage. He testified at the NTSB’s hearing, suggesting that the investigators disqualify themselves because of their connection to UAL’s “owners,” the Rockefellers, who also “owned” the major news outlets through their “ownership” of the media’s parent companies. (Such is the Rockefeller genius, what makes their name near-Divine in the conspiracy scene, I guess: having shifted their holdings from oil to banking, they now probably do have some tangential ownership stake in almost every major, publicly-traded company.)
*He’s also written of a “secret plot to assassinate Vice-President Gore” that occurred in the skies over Chicago in 1999, when three commercial airliners were steered into the flight path of Air Force Two; he blames “the Bush crime family,” which was trying to neutralize potential Democratic competition in the 2000 race, including JFK, Jr., whose death Skolnick attributes to a bomb placed in the tail section of his Piper Saratoga aircraft.
Given Skolnick’s tendency to define himself as virtually the lone voice of reason in American media, the only one untainted by nefarious connections to the mob or the Bilderbergs or the Rothschilds or the Mossad or the military-industrial complex (what Chomsky calls “the Pentagon system”), his reluctance to engage in public discourse is a little confusing. The dialogues on “Broadsides” are just as one-sided as those on Fox News, the guests every bit as sketchy in terms of reputation and affiliation as those on “Nightline” or “Meet the Press.” Like those he criticizes, Skolnick fancies himself omniscient, so far ahead of the pack that the “proof” of his theories often comes from his own work. Only LaRouche is that openly referential of and reverential to himself; as opposed to Chomsky’s dense, Times-heavy footnotes, their “facts” pass without even the vaguest reinforcement. I’m willing to accept that as necessary to function efficiently, given his utterly unconventional worldview; after all, everyone in the media is corrupt, or corrupted—even me, apparently, according to Skolnick:
“I HONESTLY DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GETTING AT OR WHAT [IT] IS THAT YOU ARE TRYING TO INTERVIEW ME ABOUT. Your insults, however, are typical of the monopoly press fakers. Are you hoping to work among them?”
His use of capitalization in his response to my third e-mail (the first two went unanswered, until I baited him with thanks for “exposing the truth about the weird and wacky world of conspiracy theories”) is intriguing because the capitalized portion is blatantly borrowed from the rhetorical tool-kit of Defense secretary Rumsfeld, who often responds to questions he doesn’t like by feigning obliviousness. This fact has been widely reported on, and Skolnick would know that. He should know my intentions quite well, because we spoke for over an hour prior to my leaving Florida. I told him what I was doing and why I was doing it, and he pledged his full cooperation, albeit reluctantly since he believes the Chicago Reader (which co-sponsored my trip) was and is funded by mafia pornography revenue, and thus is not predisposed to covering a vigorous anti-mob crusader like himself. All this was forgotten once I arrived and called his office—completely forgotten. It soon became apparent that, like too many women I’ve known, being respectful and honest were not in my interests as a journalist, and that insults were needed.
A common feature of Skolnick’s work is his designation of certain parties as being operatives for Mossad, Israel’s version of the CIA. Monica Lewinsky and Chandra Levy were Mossad agents, in his view, part of a scheme to compromise members of the American political hierarchy who were known for their sexual proclivities, like Bill Clinton, who “turned” Lewinsky into a double agent in charge of slurping her way into the Pentagon, where some 24 military brass were planning a coup before they were systematically snuffed through a series of weird suicides and plane crashes. (In the view of Skolnick, no one dies by accident in Washington.) Clinton’s former Chief of Staff, current Illinois congressional candidate Rahm Emanuel, is allegedly the North American Bureau Chief for Mossad a charge denied by Emanuel’s press secretary, Becky Carroll, who had no real comment but then added: “Mr. Emanuel is too busy running a campaign for Congress to be working for the Mossad at this time.” (Italics mine.) It would make sense if he refused my requests for time if he wanted to conceal his own status as a Mossad operative, so my next question was obvious, since he clearly feels it’s something that public officials should have to answer for: “Are you now, or have you ever been, Mossad?”
It worked: “OVER THE LAST FORTY YEARS, I have been interviewed repeatedly by mass media types. I found out, that to please their editors and continue working, they simply wanted to somehow bad-mouth me. I am weary of personal interviews. My philosophy is not the point. Judge by the work of our group, of which I am the founder and head. My policy is to NOT grant anymore [sic] personal interviews. My background is on my website. Click on my name in the upper left hand corner. IF YOU HAVE A SPECIFIC QUESTION about one or more of my stories, I would make the time to answer on the phone. NO I AM NOT WITH MOSSAD. Depending on my day to day circumstances, YES I AM SOMETIMES ABRUPT. Best, Skolnick.”
This was something of a breakthrough. His comments were downright mellifluous compared to previous statements, and had me thinking that maybe he would cooperate. But subsequent e-mails went sans response, and my prospects for publication foundered for lack of a central character. The idea of my summer’s work being consigned to the “noble but failed experiment” pile of an editor’s desk made me angry in a way familiar to disgruntled craftsmen the world over. It was like watching two of my queries disintegrate in the collapsing World Trade Center. My highly-developed sense of self-importance leads me to consider all elements blocking my professional advancement to be at least tacitly connected to the terrorist plot, since I find my work so vital to the long-term health of my country. Thus Skolnick, by denying me the opportunity to make money writing about the reconfiguration of the American intellectual scene, had cast his lot with the enemies of freedom and fundamentalists of all stripes. Building on the President’s admonition that “you’re either with us [the American government] or against us,” my next query was intended to further “clarify” the issue of his connections: Is Skolnick’s “Committee” a front for Al-Qaeda?
“IS THAT THE WORST COMMENT YOU CAN FIND AMONG THE “LIARS AND WHORES OF THE PRESS”? Most that will comment at all simply hate me for exposing several of them over the last four decades as linked to the secret political police, FBI, CIA, NSA, etc. Why bother me with THEIR opinions about me and my associates and our work? Some media assholes claim I am with ‘The Mossad.’ Others, that you talk to, say I am with the Arabs. I do not promise to answer any more of your damned fool questions. If you have something reasonable and sensible to ask, I may respond. Otherwise, when I see your e-mail I may just quickly click DELETE.”
That was the end of our correspondence. Later attempts to contact him failed. I was briefly tempted to stalk the guy—in retrospect, that’s probably what I should have done. It would have been fun to see just how obnoxious I could be in my pursuit of a septuagenarian cripple. But my heart just wasn’t in it.
American intellectual life for most of the past century has been based on what could be called the “spectrum of belief.” This spectrum defines not only the way in which the majority of intellectuals view each other but, significantly, how they view themselves in relation to the rest of the market. What has happened over the past year is nothing less than a reconfiguration of the national psyche, a new embracing of ideas that were once met with reflexive rejection. Many of these ideas are bizarre, outrageous, wrong, but they’re all much more open to consideration now than before the “mainstream” consensus of our country’s invulnerability was challenged as it was and is. Had someone predicted September 11 in advance (and perhaps someone did), they would have been gently ignored, like an Alzheimer’s patient, a supermarket tabloid or a conspiracy theorist. Such people may have spent some time in small rooms with big men wearing badges, just for the sake of clarity. The hip nature of the new paranoia that’s swept the states has led to the slight but imposing empowerment of people whose bodies of work once existed entirely off the radar of acceptable American mainstream ideas. But now, having seen that the “impossible” is very much possible, people are not so quick to dismiss the more fanciful areas of the intellectual arena. If it’s true that these are such strange times, then I guess it’s good that we have such strange people to explain it all to us. Unlike a lot of people, Sherman Skolnick’s had a pretty good year.
Intuition and Digression:
The events of September 11, 2001 are ubiquitous in American history. They stand alone, predominant in the memories of everyone who hasn’t blocked out thoughts of it. It will likely be a long time, if ever again, before anything else occurs that takes its place as the single defining moment of the modern age, an age still very much in flux and wanting for definition, and one shudders to think of what the next big shock could be. The old phrase, “Accentuate the positive,” registers somewhere between a bad joke and a counter-productive delusion in wartime. The shock, grief and paranoia that has followed what was, in effect, a sucker-punch by the foes of freedom, has given way to a new and timely fascination with humanity’s negative potential. (This is probably true in many areas of the world—indeed the gestation of our new enemies can be seen as an expression of that—but especially in America, for whom such thoughts were rare.) Energy once spent dreaming of what can be done for the species rather than to it, those fantasies of innovation as solo and mass entities, have been rudely rebuked and replaced by speculation about what kind of horrible fate awaits the United States and other combatants in the new war—which is not a new war, according to Noam Chomsky of MIT, as well as Christopher Hitchens of Washington, DC, Lyndon LaRouche of Leesburg, VA, Sherman Skolnick of Chicago and Gore Vidal of Ravello, Italy, who all make this point in separate forums in unique ways, and who would never dream of being connected to anyone else I’ve just listed alongside them. And this, I think, is the problem when it comes to dissent in the 21st century: the advocates of state/corporate power in America pretty much have their shit together, but the citizens are generally content with being so fragmented that effective coalitions have virtually no chance of coalescing. The main instrument of this fragmentation in the past century has been the “left-center-right” spectrum, which forced everyone into convenient genre-types that made crossover difficult because of the spectrum’s intractability.
“LaRouche: the Nut that Cracks the Others”
As a boy in the south, I watched folks eat pecans. I did so rarely myself, due to allergies, but I was intrigued by how they were eaten. In the absence of a nutcracker available (often the case, since no one just carries nutcrackers around with them), the solution is to hold two pecans in your hand and squeeze. The denser nut would smash the softer one, and the process was repeated until you’d had your fill. Sometimes a single nut revealed itself to be of such profound density that it survived multiple rounds of cracking. I find this a metaphor of great utility in writing about Lyndon LaRouche of Leesburg, VA. I thought he was dead until I saw a couple of his “Crisis Bulletins” at the University of Chicago campus, at which point I was taken in by his persistence in existing. The very fact that LaRouche is still around and has any support at all strikes me as a major indication that madness has begun to prevail on the American intellectual scene—not that LL is necessarily nuts, but that everything is kind of nuts now, and it takes a harder nut to crack another.
If the standard view holds up as truth, then Lyndon LaRouche may be the only contemporary cult leader with his own section of the Washington Post’s website. It details his evolution from pseudo-Marxist to pseudo-traditionalist beliefs, driven by an obsessive need to “flank” his political rivals, elements among whom he blames for a 1989 conviction on charges of mail and tax fraud that kept him in prison until 1994, in particular Henry Kissinger.
I asked LaRouche the following question via e-mail:
“It seems to me that the traditional “left-center-right” spectrum of political thought and debate is nearing the end of its usefulness as a real expression of contemporary thought. The old coalitions (on both the left and the right) seem to be breaking down based on theories of who is responsible for the carnage and the efficacy of our response to it, and new coalitions are being formed in their place. Given that the “center” is typically depicted as the base of reason in politics, but is in fact a subjective and amorphous term based on the preexisting ideologies of whomever is using the term, please tell me: what is now happening in the country’s mass consciousness? And also, what is your role in this paradigm shift?”
LaRouche’s answer arrived the next day, complete with referential links:
“I have three respectively distinct responses to your question:
A. There are sometimes situations where one should associate with sane self-styled ‘leftists’ on civil rights and civil liberties issues, and in which one must oppose certain lunatic ‘leftist’ commotion.”
The spirit of tactical generosity is lost on Skolnick: “I do not wish to make public statements about the LaRouchies, which seem to be a cult. Some consider them more hazardous than the mafia,” according to Skolnick, for once in tune with, the mainstream consensus. Nevermind that he and LaRouche both agree as to the root causes of what LaRouche calls an “accelerated breakdown crisis” of the national economy. Such raging iconoclasts can’t be seen in the company of each other, even if it does benefit them.
LaRouche continues: “B. I have long ridiculed what became the customary notions of ‘right, left, and center,’ by pointing out these terms originally referred to seating arrangements in the French legislature during the period from July 14, 1789 until Napoleon’s tyranny. C. Since 1763, the only scientifically precise distinction between leading U.S. political philosophies has been that which you may find summarized in my Sao Paulo address on the occasion of the city’s inauguration of my honorary citizenship. You will find that on my campaign’s website, as both text and video actuality.
D. I have a unique position in both the history of the U.S.A. and world, as reflected in the effects of the presently, crisis-wracked, onrushing phase-shift in U.S. and world politics. Ideas which correspond to the reality of an historic crisis of modern civilization as a whole, can not be denied for long.”
My next encounter with Team LaRouche occurred more or less by accident. I stumbled across a rally being held by his Chicago supporters, who were set up at the northeast corner of La Salle and Van Buren streets, strategically positioned across the street from the local branch of the Federal Reserve, which both LaRouche and Skolnick say is actually a private institution posing as part of the government, when in fact the Fed and its chairman, Alan Greenspan, are entirely immune to democratic pressures. The financial district area also includes the Chicago Board of Trade, Mercantile Exchange, Chicago Board of Options, Midwest Stock Exchange, Harris Bank, etc., all supposedly reeling from the recession (unless you believe Skolnick’s claims that such institutions actually profit from such crises by absorbing the investments of regular Americans). The LaRouchies had one of the more interesting gimmick tables I’d ever seen at a political event. I was handed the most recent LaRouche “Crisis Bulletin” by the only white female operative on the scene, who spoke with a clearly “urban” accent that reinforced the weird demographic dynamism of the “LaRouche in 2004” movement.
Now aged 83, LaRouche seeks the Democratic nomination, which seems utterly foolish, given who he is and what the Democrats are by every reasonable estimation, but he spins the notion as a last-ditch attempt at salvaging the tradition last viable in the administrations of Franklin Roosevelt and Jack Kennedy. (Chicago figures prominently in the histories of both, by the way, according to Skolnick: it was the “original” site for JFK’s assassination, and former mayor Anton Cermak was killed in an attempt on Roosevelt’s life in Florida.) News that the market had fallen another 238 points that day, part of a near-continuous slide from its late-‘90s peak that only slowed in late summer 2002, only made LaRouche’s “forecast” of a major economic meltdown (that can’t be stopped without emergency action of the type only he has suggested) look better than it did, say, in November 2000. Not that anyone in the financial district paid attention to his people, though none of them could provide solid reasons for the recession themselves.
“Jews versus Jews: a Kosher Conflict”
Each week, as Sunday morning builds to high noon near the Water Tower on State Street, a group of Jews amass to protest the Israeli government’s policies as directed by General Ariel Sharon. Sharon has led an aggressive campaign to ensure the security of Jews victimized by Palestinian suicide bombers. The group, Not In My Name, feels that Israel has been illegally occupying the West Bank, Gaza strip and Arab East Jerusalem since seizing control of those areas during the 1967 war. They hold up two large banners that read “Jews for a Just Peace with Palestine.” The banners are white with blue writing; the color scheme—which matches the Israeli flag—is not only soothing to the eyes, but can also be interpreted as a gesture of solidarity with the mother land. They are of the Left.
Each week, as Sunday morning builds to high noon near the Water Tower on State Street, a group of Jews amass to protest the protesters previously mentioned. They have no group name, because they consider themselves the “rational” Jews, the ones not hung up on a treason trip, the ones who seek not a peace with Palestinians who, in their view, want all Jews run out of the region or even killed, if need be. They have no banners, and their signs are terse, the slogans structured as mathematical equations: “Peace with Palestine=Israel in Pieces.” They are of the Right.
Every Sunday at high noon the internal conflict among God’s “chosen people” plays out in full view of tourists. (You can always tell a tourist by his or her need to view every square inch around them—lots of head turning and slow-motion steps.) Hundreds of them run—or rather, stroll—the gauntlet of gamines pushing flyers and older, nerdier males with multicolored signs that contradict each other. At least half the people who walk past the protesters are, or could be, Jewish, and their reactions say a lot about just how divisive this issue is among people whose fates are intertwined.
“Shame on you, shame on you,” shouts an older lady to the Left.
“You people are nuts,” says a man to the Right.
Invariably the two sides engage each other. The Left’s focus is on the passersby, alerting them to a situation that most of them—especially the kids—have never stopped to really think about; whereas the Right’s attention is on the Left, heckling, baiting, antagonizing them. They seem to be having more fun, because they know that all the external conditions, those conditions beyond the control of the population, reinforce their view: that the Palestinians need killing, badly, because nothing will temper their lust for the destruction of Israel. “What they need to do is, instead of bulldozing their homes [the houses of suicide bombers and other Palestinian militants], is kill their families,” says Warren, who leads the right, smiling.
“If you’re going to harass us, we’ll call the police,” says a mildly retarded Leftist whose sign shakes in his almost useless left hand. Jews, unlike other ethnic groups, don’t say things they don’t mean, and sure enough a cop soon arrives to partition the protesters. The Left complains that the Right is causing confusion with their contradictory message so close to them—presumably because all Jews look alike, though that goes unsaid. The Left has a permit, so they get the prime shady spot near the water tower, while the right is banished across the street, where their signs can only be seen by passing cars.
As the impartial observer, I find this scene rather metaphoric: the internecine squabble between two groups of more or less irrelevant protesters results in the pro-Sharonists (on the Right) side getting the same treatment that the anti-Sharonists (on the Left) receive on the only levels where any change in the situation can occur—politics and media. Splitting the camps robbed them all of the chance to demonstrate just how weird and complicated the Israeli-Palestinian situation is, in a way that cannot be understood without doing a lot more reading than the average American is willing to undertake. That their odyssey of consumption was not made more difficult (via a congested sidewalk) by this scaled-down ideological war, between two sides who share a common goal of saving their people from extermination, undermined the inroads both sides (especially the Left) sought to make with the tourists, most of whom were too busy looking for high-priced sweatshop goods to pay attention to anything that couldn’t be easily ignored.
“The Sublime Role of Christopher Hitchens”
The man responsible for starting me on this theoretical odyssey is Christopher Hitchens, a columnist for The Nation and Vanity Fair whose leftist leanings are legendary within the obsessively “objective” world of mainstream media. “Hitch,” who only recently ceased to define himself as a socialist, shocked many of his colleagues by expressing support for America’s “retaliatory” bombing of Afghanistan and, “worse” still, deriding his fellow leftists for not joining the fight against what he calls “fascism with an Islamic face.” The ensuing literary feud with his friend, the preeminent linguist and policy analyst Noam Chomsky, was the first evidence of serious schisms in the traditional ideological spectrum. For a man like Hitchens, who knows his stuff better than almost anyone in the Western intellectual sphere (except maybe Chomsky), to openly side with the very people whom he has ridiculed in print for 20 years, sends a clear message to savvy observers of international political dynamics: “Times are changing.”
From my vantage point, which is largely on the receiving end of mass media, I’ve come to believe that the pre-existing “left-center-right” spectrum that was the standard for classifying political affiliations in the West for at least the last 50-60 years is now breaking down, and new coalitions are forming, composed of rather unlikely “allies.” I could note several earlier examples of this trend–like the libertarian/conservative splits on drug policy and capital punishment, as well as the NATO bombing of Kosovo–but the terrorist attacks on America and the constituent aspects of our response provide, for me, the most clear-cut case of how traditional concepts in this regard are no longer applicable.
The ZNet crowd, once the epicenter of vigorous, insightful leftism, now spend only half their time engaged in their previous modes of public deliberation; one-quarter of their energy has been deflected to weighing in on the Hitchens/Chomsky debate, and another quarter has been used, for the first time, to attack the wave of “conspiracy theories” that have sprung up since September 11.
(Note: Jimmy Breslin, Pat Buchanan, Noam Chomsky, Stanley Crouch, Rahm Emanuel, Nat Hentoff, Christopher Hitchens and Sherman Skolnick were all contacted but refused to be interviewed for this article. My depiction of their views is based on published writings, in particular those produced after September 11.)