November 12, 2007


Publish and Perish: The mysterious death of Lyndon LaRouche's printer (Avi Klein, November 2007, Washington Monthly)

For forty years, the Lyndon LaRouche movement has been a ubiquitous, if diminishing, presence in the political landscape of America, and of Washington. LaRouche has made eight runs for the presidency, including one campaign from prison. At D.C. press conferences and think tank events, a reporter for a LaRouche publication called Executive Intelligence Review can often be heard asking strange questions about the grain cartel. Young, malnourished LaRouche acolytes frequently stop Hill staffers on their way home from work and hand them pamphlets with titillating titles like "Children of Satan" or "The Gore of Babylon." A peek inside offers details on LaRouche's many enemies, such as the "Conrad Black–backed McCain–Lieberman–Donna Brazile cabal."

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One of the LaRouche movement's longest-serving loyalists was Ken Kronberg. A handsome classics scholar and drama teacher, Kronberg owned and managed PMR Printing, the outfit that has generated the idiosyncratic propaganda that sustains LaRouche's entire enterprise. Last year, the LaRouche organization spent more than $2.5 million—at least 60 percent of its publicly reported expenditures—on printing and distributing pamphlets. Most of this money went to PMR. LaRouche's output was so prolific, in fact, that PMR ranked among the country's top 400 printers by sales. Despite this, the company's finances were in perilous shape. Various LaRouche organizations owed Kronberg hundreds of thousands of dollars. When the IRS and Virginia tax authorities came calling over withholding payments, Kronberg knew he was in serious trouble.

On April 11, 2007, Kronberg sat in PMR's offices in Sterling, Virginia, forty-five miles northwest of Washington, to read the "morning briefing," a daily compendium of political statements that reflect the outcome of the executive committee meetings held at LaRouche's house in the nearby town of Round Hill. This particular briefing struck unnervingly close to home. Written by a close associate of LaRouche's and addressed to the movement's younger followers, the brief bitterly attacked what it called the "baby boomers" in the organization—members like Kronberg who had joined LaRouche in the late 1960s and early '70s. The brief named "the print shop"—Kronberg's operation—as a special target. "The Boomers will be scared into becoming human, because you're in the real world, and they're not," the brief read. "Unless," the writer added, the boomers "want to commit suicide."

This note may have had an effect. At 10:17 a.m., Kronberg sent an e-mail to his accountant instructing him to transfer $235,000 held in an escrow account to the IRS. He got in his blue-green Toyota Corolla and drove east. He mailed some family bills at the post office, then turned around onto the Waxpool Road overpass. Just before 10:30 a.m., Kronberg parked his car on the side of the overpass, turned on his emergency lights, and flung himself over the railing to his death. (Although LaRouche's home is only fifteen miles from the St. James Episcopal Church in Leesburg, Virginia, where Kronberg's funeral was held, LaRouche didn't show up for the service.)

True to form, LaRouche's current and former followers immediately burst forth with conspiracy theories. Had Kronberg been deliberately goaded to commit suicide by the movement's leaders? Had this private and modest man killed himself in a public fashion in order to draw attention to LaRouche's murky finances? Much of this speculation took place on FactNet, an Internet discussion board for former cult members. Users soon posted leaked internal memoranda from the LaRouche leadership showing that it, too, was blindsided and uncertain.

Whatever the answers to these questions, Kronberg's life and death perhaps tell an even more interesting tale. From the very beginning, the LaRouche movement has been a thoroughly paper-based cult. Its strange propaganda, disposable to most people who encounter it, has been central to both the movement's proselytizing activities and its finances. Although most of PMR's problems stemmed from LaRouche's own impecuniousness and his insatiable demand for printed materials, Kronberg's financial and legal troubles infuriated LaRouche. LaRouche was furious because he was frightened. Ink is the lifeblood of the LaRouche organization, and in PMR's impending demise, he could see the likely death of the organization itself.

The LaRouche movement has been called many things: Marxist, fascist, a political cult, a personality cult, a criminal enterprise, and, in the words of the Heritage Foundation, "one of the strangest political groups in American history." More than anything else, however, what it resembles is a vast and bizarre vanity press.

In the NJ Democratic gubernatorial primaries in 1985 there was a LaRouche candidate. The candidate I was working for and the president of the State Senate kept laughing at his answers and it looked ungovernorlike, so they were under strict orders from their respective campaigns to knock it off. They took to just passing notes to each other and smirking.

Finally, in the last debate before the primary, closing statements, last chance to reach the voters, the guy takes out a poem by Schiller and reads it aloud for two minutes. The moderator, dumbfounded, had to interrupt and apologetically tell him he'd run out of time. He folded up the poem and said: "That's okay....I think everyone got the message."

Well, they did if the message was that LaRouchies are lunatics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 12, 2007 6:42 AM

I think oj should do similar posts about RonPaulians and Randians, and then we could have a loony-off, see which group is more nuts . . . granted, there'd be a lot of overlap.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at November 12, 2007 11:44 PM

Don't forget Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader. Does Alan Keyes have groupies?

Posted by: ratbert at November 13, 2007 8:32 AM