If you look between the trees along Rte. 704 in rural Loudoun County one weekend day, you might see the men in camouflage fatigues going through their drills, local residents say.
Neighbors say they have grown accustomed to the groups of men with semiautomatic weapons rushing across the rolling fields of the Woodburn Estate outside Leesburg. On a recent Saturday, a resident said, he heard what he thought was shooting from the old estate. "It sounded like light mortar," the neighbor said. "A sort of a 'kapook.' "
The people who stay at the Woodburn Estate say there are no mortar emplacements on the premises. But they say guards there carry an array of handguns -- Colt Combat Commanders, Walther PPKs, MAC10s -- and other armaments. There are sandbag-buttressed guard posts near the estate's 13-room Georgian mansion, cement barriers along the road and sharp metal spikes in the driveway.
The heavy security is for Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. LaRouche, who lives on the estate, is a perennial right-wing presidential candidate who is convinced he is in imminent danger of assassination by hit teams dispatched by the Libyans, the Soviets or narcotics pushers.
In part because LaRouche says he finds the Loudoun countryside safe, he and his associates are moving into the area in a big way. LaRouche's associates have bought three properties in the county worth a total of more than $1 million, and they agreed to buy another for $1.3 million until the deal fell through.
LaRouche, 62, is the leader of a tightly knit worldwide organization known for its shifting ideological stances and apocalyptic rhetoric, according to interviews with former associates of LaRouche, numerous individuals familiar with the group, and government and law enforcement officials, as well as an examination of the group's internal documents and publicly distributed literature.
LaRouche's group blames many of the world's ills on plots by the Soviet secret police, the queen of England, "the dope lobby," Jewish organizations and other groups it considers to be its enemies, the organization's literature shows. The group has 500 to 1,000 members, former associates of LaRouche say.
The group, which started as a left-wing socialist sect in the 1960s but which turned to the right in the 1970s, has espoused an ideology that some Jewish groups say is anti-Semitic. Its philosophy is a mishmash, but the main thrust is that LaRouche and his followers are virtually the only force on Earth able to stop nuclear war and world starvation.
The organization supports itself financially through a variety of means, including sales of its literature and intelligence-gathering for corporations and individuals, said LaRouche and some associates. He gets public funds as well -- LaRouche's recent presidential campaign received $494,000 in federal matching funds, federal records said.
So far, in addition to renting the Woodburn property, corporations operated by LaRouche's associates have bought three properties in Loudoun for $1,048,000. At this point, about 25 of LaRouche's associates have joined LaRouche and his wife, Helga Zepp-LaRouche, in the Leesburg area, sources said.
The group also has decided to move many operations of its national headquarters from Manhattan to Loudoun, say people familiar with the group. As many as 200 LaRouche followers are expected to move there to work in a new printing plant and office complex the group is building in a Leesburg industrial park, according to former members of the group and a Loudoun County official.
In this historic region, where monuments pay tribute to Gen. Robert E. Lee's Confederacy and farms stay in the hands of families for seven generations, residents are greeting LaRouche with intense curiosity. They do not know how to react to him, and some are afraid.
"We feel if we rock the boat, they could get nasty with us," said one county resident who has dealt with LaRouche's associates but who, like most of the dozen or so local people interviewed, does not want to be identified. "We have to coexist with them, but we don't agree with their political beliefs."
To Leesburg Police Chief James Kidwell, Lyndon LaRouche's entry into Loudoun County is shaping up as a clash of cultures.
"Out here are more country people," Kidwell said. "It's a different world they're in. They'll learn as they go along. The things they're interested in, the country people aren't interested in."
Indeed, LaRouche and his group seem strikingly out of character in a variety of ways in slow-paced, neighborly Loudoun.
According to former members of LaRouche's organization and other individuals familiar with its operation, group members follow LaRouche's dictates almost without question. Members of the group -- which is known as the National Caucus of Labor Committees but which also operates through a number of other groups -- generally are discouraged from maintaining personal relationships with people outside the group, said ex-associates and others knowledgeable about the group.
Members of the organization also have harassed some of its critics and journalists who have researched it, the same sources said.
LaRouche denies that he is a cult leader or that his associates harass anyone. In a U.S. District Court trial in November in Alexandria, he also denied that he plays a leadership role in any of the organizations identified with him. In the trial, LaRouche lost a libel suit against NBC, and the network was awarded a $3 million judgment against LaRouche for his group's attempt to sabotage a network interview. He is appealing the verdict.
Loudoun residents say they know almost nothing about their new neighbor. Many express puzzlement over LaRouche's statements in court that he is almost penniless (despite his extensive world travels and well-to-do life style at Woodburn), and his assertion that he cannot pay NBC the $3 million.
Several residents said they also were perplexed by LaRouche's half-hour televised presidential advertisements in the weeks before the Nov. 6 election. LaRouche said, among other things, that Democrat Walter F. Mondale was an "agent of influence" of the Soviet secret police, the KGB.
v"Nobody really knows what his work is or what his motives are," a Loudoun native said of LaRouche. "It's a complete blank."
"I feel Mr. LaRouche has long ago fallen off the deep end," said Frank Raflo, a Loudoun supervisor who said he drew his conclusion in part from one of LaRouche's television advertisements. Raflo said that LaRouche and Loudoun locals have been getting along "peaches and cream, nicey nicey," but that behind the scene, "I think he's being received with nervous laughter."
Other residents say they fear that Leesburg is headed for the same fate that befell rural Antelope, Ore., where hundreds of followers of Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh moved in and took over the town. But LaRouche has only a fraction as many followers as the Bhagwan, and LaRouche and his associates say they want to live in harmony with Loudoun locals.
But LaRouche acknowledges that his presence may cause a stir.
"There's going to be controversy, 'What's this ogre doing in Leesburg?' " said LaRouche in a November interview at a bookstore his associates opened in the town. "They can find out by coming here and getting one of my books."
Most residents acknowledge they have never seen LaRouche. The only encounter most residents have had is seeing the security guard at Woodburn's fortified entrance, who calls in reinforcements by walkie-talkie when motorists pull over for a look. Others have spotted the group's caravan of cars moving down the highway in tight formation.
Generally, the only people in the area who have dealt with the "LaRouchians" -- as they're called by journalists and researchers who follow their activities -- are Loudoun lawyers, real estate agents, contractors and other professionals.
"They are some of the nicest people I've ever dealt with," said one Loudoun man who has met several of them. "They're intelligent, well educated, pleasant." But most locals try not to discuss politics with them, the man said. "People keep their distance from that . . . . LaRouche is a hot topic up here."
Local officials say LaRouche is presenting them with a quandary. They have tried for years to attract investment to the county, but some say they are not sure this is the kind they had in mind. One concerned Leesburg official, who requested anonymity, said the town could not legally bar LaRouche even if it wanted to. "I don't know what a community does in a case like this," the official said.
LaRouche started his move into Loudoun in August 1983, when he, his wife and others moved into an approximately 25-acre section of the Woodburn Estate that includes the large brick manor house and two other homes. The property, and several hundred more acres leased by farmers, is owned by a Swiss-based company.
In the last several months, corporations associated with the LaRouche group have bought three other properties in the county.
In June they bought a 9.8-acre tract in a Leesburg industrial park. The seller, Dudley C. Webb Jr., said he and his family were paid the full $373,000 at the property closing. The new owner, Lafayette/Leesburg Ltd. Partnership, is developing a 60,000-square-foot printing plant and office complex on the site, said Mark Nelis, Leesburg's zoning administrator.
The company's two trustees are Edward Spannaus and J.S. Morrison, according to a deed on file at the Loudoun County Courthouse. Spannaus is a top LaRouche aide, and Morrison is a LaRouche supporter from New Jersey.
Nelis said that representatives of the company told him that construction of the complex is expected to cost $3.1 million.
Nelis said that the company's representatives told town officials that the new plant would employ about 200 people, many of whom would be moving from New York. Loudoun real estate brokers are already receiving telephone calls from editorial employes of LaRouche-affiliated publications in New York asking for housing advice, Nelis said.
Martha Semmes, who as Leesburg's planning director has the job of attracting business to the town, said 200 jobs would help the region, but she added that she has reservations.
"We really don't know what to think at this point," Semmes said when asked about the county's newest corporate neighbor. "I don't know enough about him to know what his potential impact on our economy might be."
In July, a LaRouche-affiliated company called Publication Equities Inc. agreed to pay $400,000 for a 64-acre property in the county's rural Neersville area, near Harpers Ferry, W.Va. The company's only director is Spannaus, according to an incorporation document filed at the Loudoun County Courthouse.
In September, Publication Equities agreed to buy a storefront in downtown Leesburg for $275,000 and quickly renovated it into an upscale bookstore, Ben Franklin Booksellers. The owners say they plan to build a domed room on top for a "cultural center."
In addition, last fall Spannaus signed a contract to buy a 171-acre estate outside Leesburg for $1.3 million, according to documents on file in Loudoun Circuit Court. The estate includes a 14-room manor house with eight fireplaces, plus three other houses and numerous other buildings.
But a legal snag developed. One of the sellers, an elderly District of Columbia resident, is legally incompetent, and any sale would have required approval of a judge. The sellers' lawyer, George Schweitzer, said in court documents that he was "not totally satisfied" with the buyer's financial condition. A source said that the reason was that the LaRouche associates would not supply the financial statement thought to be necessary to get court approval.
Charles Ottinger, Publication Equities' Leesburg lawyer, said Spannaus then told him that he had agreed to have someone else take over his right to buy the estate. The new buyer, multimillionaire Oklahoma oilman David Nick Anderson, also agreed to buy the property for $1.3 million, but under slightly different terms, according to court documents.
Anderson donated $1,000 to LaRouche's presidential campaign last February, according to documents on file at the Federal Election Commission. Despite repeated telephone messages left for him, Anderson could not be reached for comment about his plans for the property.
That is only one of the questions Loudoun people are asking. Another, more basic question the locals are posing is: Why is the LaRouche group moving to Loudoun County in the first place?
LaRouche said in an interview that he is sick of New York City, which he calls a "sin bucket." His associates also say law enforcement officials there do not adequately protect him from assassination.
"In Virginia, Mr. LaRouche has been able to operate in a relatively secure environment," Jeffrey Steinberg, a top aide to LaRouche, said in an affidavit. "The terrorist organizations which have targeted Mr. LaRouche do not have bases of operations in Virginia."
There are additional reasons for the move to Loudoun.
LaRouche said in an interview that he enjoys Leesburg because it gives him a shorter commute to Washington, where he said he frequently has meetings. LaRouche said he and his associates have been meeting for several years with officials in federal agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency.
In addition, says a former associate of LaRouche, a rural setting restricts members' contact with the outside world. The group has been losing members in New York in part because they come into contact with old friends and family members, and because of New York's rich cultural life, the ex-associate said. Years ago, he added, many group members moved into the same apartment buildings in Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood, and as members quit the group, they remained in the buildings.
"His remaining members had been contaminated by seeing happy former members," said the ex-associate. In Leesburg, members "would be isolated from ex-members, and totally creatures of the organization."
With each property purchase by the LaRouche group, the curiosity of local residents increases. Rumors circulate around Leesburg about the group's activities on the Woodburn estate.
After a neighbor complained that local children were scared to see bodyguards armed with semiautomatic rifles accompanying Helga Zepp-LaRouche on walks around the estate, county Sheriff John Isom said he visited Woodburn to talk to the security men there. Isom said that he was satisfied with their response and that there have been no untoward incidents on the estate.
At least five of LaRouche's bodyguards have permit applications on file in the Loudoun County Courthouse to carry weapons. Some of the bodyguards are longtime LaRouche followers, while others are professional security employes.
LaRouche said in an interview that his security is a constant worry.
"Since 1974 I've been under constant assassination threat," he said. "I'm constantly living under safe-house conditions. I live no normal life . . . . I haven't had a place of my own to live in for 11 or 12 years."
While he spends much of his time traveling or visiting the group's property in Wiesbaden, West Germany, LaRouche said he sometimes pays little attention to where he is. He said the 185-year-old Woodburn manor, known by architecture buffs for its beveled brick cornices and hand-carved mantels, is "just a safe house."
LaRouche said that he is pampered by his Woodburn associates, who cook and clean for him while he works in his office an average of 15 hours a day. Every morning he awakens to get intelligence briefings about world events from his associates, and he reads a report of up to 400 pages telexed from the group's worldwide offices, he said.
"I don't do much entertaining in the normal sense," he said. "What I prefer to do requires a long attention span."
LaRouche testified in federal court that he has no idea who pays the rent on the estate, the heating or telephone bills, his travel expenses or his lawyers' fees. He said in a deposition that his clothes are bought for him by his security staff.
LaRouche testified that he has almost no income and has not filed an income tax return since the early 1970s.
LaRouche said in the deposition that he has been carrying the same $20 in his wallet for years. "I have not made a purchase of anything greater than a $5 haircut in the last 10 years," he testified.
Former members of the LaRouche organization back up his contention that LaRouche does not pay for anything, but say that others, including members of his security staff, pay for everything from restaurant tabs to cab fare.
One ex-member said that LaRouche enjoys a "wonderful life style" befitting a man making $250,000 a year, according to an NBC transcript of an interview on file in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. "Mr. LaRouche is a master in making sure that nothing is in his name."
Lawyers for NBC say the source of LaRouche's money is of intense interest to them now because of the $3,002,000 judgment the federal court jury ordered LaRouche to pay NBC. Karl W. Pilger, LaRouche's lawyer, says that LaRouche cannot pay NBC the money, and he points to a sworn affidavit LaRouche filed in the Loudoun County Courthouse. LaRouche said in the affidavit that his total assets are $5,000, including $3,700 in cash, some books and record albums, and three guns.
"I don't have any money," LaRouche said in the interview. "It [the judgment] will never be paid. It's a joke."
NBC attorney Peter K. Stackhouse is not so sure. Stackhouse said it is likely NBC will take depositions to determine whether LaRouche is "penniless or whether or not he is as wealthy as his life style suggests."
The six-person jury awarded the judgment Nov. 1 after finding that NBC had not defamed LaRouche and finding in favor of NBC in its countersuit. NBC had alleged that LaRouche followers tried to sabotage a scheduled network interview with Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) by impersonating an NBC employe and a Senate aide. The interview was for one of NBC's broadcasts on LaRouche.
LaRouche's motion to overturn the $3 million verdict is pending before U.S. District Court Judge James C. Cacheris. LaRouche also has filed a notice of appeal in the libel suit.
The nine-day trial was virtually the first time that LaRouche has undergone extensive public questioning in a courtroom. During three days on the witness stand, LaRouche frequently responded with descriptions of his philosophy and his standing in world history.
He compared his writings to the works of Dante, St. Augustine and Plato, among others. He said that anyone who believes the NBC broadcasts, which were critical of him, is "crazy," "insane" or "a total illiterate and mental case."
Several times he lectured the jurors, shaking a finger at them and pounding a fist on the table to make a point.
LaRouche became visibly disturbed at times while being questioned by an NBC lawyer and occasionally responded angrily. At times, he swiveled his chair so that his back faced the lawyers.
On occasion, LaRouche looked over at the jurors and smiled at them. LaRouche has said he likes Virginians because he thinks that he has done well there in presidential elections and that they are receptive to his message. But this group of Virginians, three men and three women, apparently was not drawn to him.
"He thought he was making points with us," recalled one juror who asked to remain anonymous. "He was making us ill. He's so used to being surrounded by toadies, he doesn't know his effect on people.
"All of us had sores on the inside of our cheeks, either from biting them to keep from laughing, or to keep from screaming, 'You're crazy.' " the juror said. "The man was uncontrollable.