I didn't start off with the intention of exploring the roots of the New Right. All I ever meant to do was investigate some current examples of deceptive practices -- fundraising scams, corporate front groups, political dirty tricks, and media manipulation -- that seem to be endemic on the right. I fully expected that my research would trace them back to the sort of two-bit operators you might find hanging out on the fringes of any successful political movement.
Instead, I discovered to my surprise that the people behind these particular scams weren't on the fringes of the right by any means -- they were at its very heart. And when I started looking into other well-known names in the New Right, they often turned out to have a history of shady dealings as well. Even more surprising was that these right-wingers did not seem to be ashamed of what they were doing or embarrassed when they were found out. Instead, they were proud of their cleverness and of their ability to circumvent the rules designed for ordinary folk.
That sort of boastful amorality might be expected in a criminal underclass which depends on living by its wits and outsmarting the rich and powerful. But to find it in a group this close to the reins of supreme power seemed anomalous. It cried out for some kind of explanation.
And so I began to look deeper.
It occurred to me that a clue might be found in the fact that many of the same people who were behind these present-day deceptions had also been active supporters twenty years ago of the Reagan administration's more discreditable overseas clients -- including the Nicaraguan contras, the South African apartheid regime, and the Afghan mujeheddin. I wondered if the involvement of certain New Rightists in CIA-style propaganda and covert operations might have led them to conclude that the same methods could legitimately be applied to domestic politics as well.
But when I looked for evidence to confirm this hypothesis, I found that conventional accounts of the New Right made little or no reference to either the scams and dirty tricks or the foreign policy adventures. According to its own self-narratives, the New Right arose in the early 60's out of conservative youth groups like William Buckley's Young Americans for Freedom and gained strength in the later 60's from the backlash against the counterculture. Like the counterculture itself, the New Right consisted overwhelmingly of people born in the 1940's, but these youthful traditionalists felt nothing but dismay at what they perceived as the excesses of the hippies and anti-war activists. One of them, Lynn Francis Bouchey, would later say:It was a generally unpleasant, unpleasant time. . . . I thought the music was nasty; I thought people were nasty. They dressed horribly. . . . It was a time I'm glad is gone. I see no romance to it. . . . I loved the early sixties, you know the Beach Boys, that sort of time. . . . But I was totally turned off [by the counterculture]. . . . The potheads and this sort of thing I found a waste.In the seventies, the maturing New Rightists started establishing organizations of their own and promoting issues like "traditional values" which enabled them to make common cause with Nixon's silent majority. They also formed alliances with the Religious Right and with disaffected Southern Democrats. However, they remained excluded from political power, a situation which they blamed on the stranglehold of the old East Coast establishment over the Republican Party. It was only with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 that the doors were opened to them. Since then, the New Right and its allies have taken credit for delivering a series of electoral victories to the Republicans, to the point where they expect to have a controlling voice in the second Bush administration.
And that was the entire story. No scams, no dirty tricks, no unseemly associations with death squads or terrorists. Just an all-American Horatio Alger fairytale, in which the poor boy from the wrong side of the tracks makes good and wins the millionaire's daughter.
But there was clearly a lot more going on than that.
I did find a somewhat fuller account in Alan Crawford's Thunder on the Right. Crawford was an early member of the New Right who became disenchanted with many of its goals and methods. In 1980 he wrote a tell-all account of what he called "the politics of resentment," one chapter of which described at length a variety of improprieties connected with direct-mail fundraising.
A number of those stories involved Lee Edwards, whom Crawford knew well from when they had worked together in 1975 as editors on Richard Viguerie's Conservative Digest. It appears that Edwards had a practice of starting up organizations like the "Underground Bible Fund" or "Friends of the FBI," which were very good at soliciting donations but not so good at actually fulfilling their promises to distribute Bibles behind the Iron Curtain or defend the good name of J. Edgar Hoover.
I was particularly interested in what Crawford had to say about Edwards because I already knew of him as the person who had founded the first United States affiliate of the World Anti-Communist League -- the American Council for World Freedom -- in 1970. The World Anti-Communist League was at the center of the Reagan administration's attempts to channel illicit aid to the Contras in the 1980's, but aside from the fact that it had been closely associated with the Taiwanese government, the Korean CIA, and Reverend Moon, I didn't know much of its earlier history.
I was very surprised to discover that Crawford made no mention of either the World Anti-Communist League or Edwards' American Council for World Freedom, and he referred to Reverend Moon only twice -- once while describing a particularly blatant fund-raising scam which Richard Viguerie ran on Moon's behalf in 1977, and a second time just in passing. However, Crawford did touch glancingly on Edwards' WACL connections in a chapter called "The Journalist as Machiavelli":Then there is Lee Edwards, once a Young Americans for Freedom activist, the first editor of Viguerie’s Conservative Digest. When the Justice Department brought suit against the American-Chilean Council in 1978, it came out that one of the organization's activities had been to plant material favorable to the Pinochet government of Chile with Edwards, then a Washington-based public relations man, who writes and distributes his own newspaper column. Edwards included the information in his newspaper articles. The accomplishment was reported back to the Chileans by the Washington officer of the American-Chilean Council, L. Francis Bouchey, another product of Young Americans for Freedom, who had shared office space with Edwards back in 1975 when Edwards was working closely with representatives of the Taiwan government. (p. 197)The first thing which struck me about this passage was its indication that the sort of Latin American adventures on the part of the New Right which I'd thought only began in the Reagan era actually went back to the 70's. The second was that Crawford was far more interested in condemning Edwards for the journalistic sin of publishing planted material under his own name than for the larger moral failure of helping to promote the appalling Pinochet regime. And the third was that, aside from noting that "Edwards was working closely with representatives of the Taiwan government," Crawford seemed to have absolutely no awareness of the degree or significance of Edwards' entanglements with the WACL and with Reverend Moon.
Granted, this last factor is probably far more obvious in retrospect than it was at the time. Lee Edwards has maintained his connections with Moon over the years and is presently the senior editor of a Moon publication, The World & I. He is also president of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which is said to be a Moon front. In December 2004, plans by this group to erect a ten foot tall bronze statue in a small Washington, DC park were causing dismay among the neighbors, who feared the loss of their small oasis of grass and public space.
Richard Viguerie, who was both Lee Edwards' employer and a member of his American Council for World Freedom, has been closely associated with Moon as well, going back at least to that 1977 fund-raising scam. When Viguerie fell on financial hard times in 1985, to the point where he had to sell Conservative Digest, it was Moon who bailed him out by tossing work his way and having his right-hand man buy Viguerie's office building.
So I hadn't gotten the sort of detailed information I was looking for out of Thunder on the Right, but I did owe the book a debt of gratitude for having drawn my attention to the American-Chilean Council. The founder of that group, Marvin Liebman, turned out to be a crucial missing link, connecting Young Americans for Freedom, the World Anti-Communist League, and the direct-mail fundraising scams of the New Right.
Marvin Liebman (1923-97) was a former Communist turned fervent anti-Communist. In the early 1950's, he was a leader of the so-called "China Lobby," serving as secretary of the Committee of One Million Against the Admission of Red China to the United Nations. Founded in 1953, this organization would survive until 1971 (the year that China was finallly admitted to the UN), with Lee Edwards taking over as secretary from Liebman in 1969. A number of its former members would join Liebman in the American-Chilean Council.
Liebman's activism was not limited to the United States. In 1947, he was working with Irgun, a right-wing terrorist organization which was attempting to secure Israeli independence through a campaign of bombings aimed at the Arabs and British. And in 1958, Liebman became general secretary of a steering committee announced in Mexico City to explore the possibility of combining the Asian People's Anti-Communist League with its own Latin American offshoot to form what would eventually become the World Anti-Communist League.
But Liebman's most enduring connection was with William Buckley, going back at least to Buckley's founding of National Review in 1955. It was Buckley who persuaded Liebman to convert from Judaism to Catholicism and then served as his godfather. And when Buckley started Young Americans for Freedom in 1960, the organization was represented by Liebman's public relations firm and made use of Liebman's office space.
Liebman's PR work for YAF, the most important aspect of which consisted of developing and maintaining a mailing list of contributors, would establish the pattern for direct-mail fundraising subsequently followed by Richard Viguerie, who was YAF's executive secretary in the 1960's. Alan Crawford says in Thunder on the Right that "[George] Wallace's fundraiser [in 1968] was Viguerie, who had been tutored in the art by Leibman [sic] when Viguerie was running Young Americans for Freedom's fundraising operation out of Leibman's New York office."
It was apparently Viguerie who turned the fund-raising business into a source of personal enrichment as well as a means of promoting conservative causes,. He would be followed in this by younger YAF members like Lee Edwards and Bruce Eberle, much to Liebman's dismay. Crawford says, "The fundraisers of the New Right, however, 'rape the public,' conservative fundraiser Marvin Leibman told me, in a 'hideous' business that constitutes a disgrace to respectable conservatives and conservative causes, posing a threat to their reputation and influence."
Liebman's disillusionment would only deepen over the years, climaxing in 1990 with a public denunciation of right-wing homophobia in the pages of the National Review, followed in 1992 by the release of his memoir, Coming out Conservative. Ultimately, he would conclude, "I can no longer call myself a conservative, a Christian, or a Republican. ... I am a gay American, and I will retain my independence from any other label."
So if the New Right did not learn the most unsavory of its deceptive practices from Liebman, just where did it get them?
Some of the unscrupulousness of the New Right could be a reflection of the general attitudes of the 1960's -- the sort of result that might be expected from transferring the hippie philosophy of "If it feels good, do it" away from sex and drugs and towards money and power. But that would not explain the seminal dishonesty of Richard Viguerie, who was about ten years older than the college-age YAFers of the 60's and presumably free of any subliminal hippie tendencies.
I believe there is a more specific source for the dishonesty of the New Right, a source which was present in the very foundations of Young Americans for Freedom. To identify what that source might be, we have to look beyond Marvin Liebman to his good friend, William Buckley.
If Liebman was an enthusiastic amateur when it came to covert ops, Buckley was the real thing. He joined the CIA soon after his graduation from Yale in 1950 and served both in Japan and in Mexico City, where his superior was E. Howard Hunt, later to be known for his role in the Watergate burglary. Buckley and Hunt remained friends for many years, and Buckley acted as godfather to one of Hunt's children.
Buckley's CIA background seems likely to have played a role in his writing and publishing career. From 1949 until its unauthorized operations were exposed by Seymour Hersh in 1974, the CIA was actively involved in attempting to influence public opinion in the United States. E. Howard Hunt has stated that Regnery Publishing, which published Buckley's God and Man at Yale in 1950, was subsidized by the CIA. Buckley's National Review has also been also suspected of having served as a CIA front, apparently with good reason.
Most of the covert techniques used by the New Right, from planted news stories to the use of front groups, seem to have been adopted wholesale from the CIA of that period. Though I cannot prove that there was direct CIA influence on Young Americans for Freedom in its glory days of the 1960's, it is a striking fact that even today, New Right operations of this sort almost invariably turn out to be tied in some way to the same small group of people who came out of YAF during that period.
For example, as I write, there are two major stories in the news involving right-wing false front operations. One has to do with the United Seniors Association (USA Next), a drug industry front that is pushing strongly for Social Security privatization while making a heavy-handed attempt to smear the American Association of Retired Persons as being a bunch of radical lefties. A recent report on this group states, "The United Seniors Association burst onto the political scene full grown from Richard Viguerie's head in 1992 with a piece of 'fright mail' headlined 'All the Social Security Trust Fund Money Is Gone!' and requesting a donation to support United Senior's efforts to 'insure the rights and benefits of America's seniors are protected.' "
The other is the scandal involving fake reporter Jeff Gannon/James Guckert. The most prominent senior figure involved with Gannon/Guckert's sponsoring organization, GOPUSA, is Bruce Eberle, who was a YAF member in the 60's and then worked for Richard Viguerie before starting his own direct-mail fundraising firm in 1974.
Just one jump away from both stories is none other than L. Francis Bouchey, formerly of the American-Chilean Council. A dozen years ago, Bouchey was writng approvingly of a former Chilean cabinet minister who was responsible for the disastrous privatization of that country's social security system under the Pinochet regime. And Bouchey is currently an adjunct fellow of an anti-environmental organization called Frontiers of Freedom whose Vice President of Policy serves on the board of GOPUSA.
The more I research incidents of this sort, the more convinced I grow that every one of them is ultimately rooted in the conservative youth movements of the 1960's, with YAF as the pre-eminent source. But I'd still give a pretty penny to know who convinced Viguerie and the younger YAFers that it was okay to enrich themselves by scamming little old ladies out of their lunch money.
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