"The effectiveness of a doctrine does not come from its meaning but from its certitude.” ---- Eric Hoffer, "The True Believer"
As I flip through Children of Satan III: The Sexual Congress for Cultural Fascism, Myles tells me he’s translating 17th-century Swiss mathematician Johann Bernoulli. From behind the magazine-sized pamphlet, I offer an encouraging smile.
“We’re singing Bach, too,” he says.
I say they seem well-rounded, and he agrees: the well-rounded LaRouche Youth Movement.
Like just about everyone else who lives around here, I’d been solicited by the Youth before, on several occasions and at varying volumes, and had sort of grown used to them being around. So the first time I saw Myles, doggedly berating an uninterested man on the street, it didn’t really faze me. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized how little I actually knew about these people. I know they turn up all over town and show a certain contempt for decency or tact, but beyond that, I couldn’t really make any adequate offhand political associations with the movement—aside from a cartoonish image of Dick Cheney dressed up like the devil.
Moreover, I was irritable and bored. I’d been a university student for three months, was nettled by my major after one and was generously funding the MBTA to keep busy. In most ways, I was exactly what the LaRouche Youth Movement was looking for. So, rather than scurrying off as usual, I approached the pamphleteer.
“What are you guys doing?”
“Take a look,” he said.
In no time flat, I found myself in possession of an uncountable number of Children of Satan pamphlets, and began my brief stint in the LaRouche Youth Movement—a group (some say a cult) of young people, founded in 1999, slavishly dedicated to propagating the word of Lyndon LaRouche.
Born in New Hampshire in 1922, LaRouche is a longtime activist. He’s run for the Democratic presidential nomination eight consecutive times, and by most accounts has undergone a political evolution from Possibly OK to Totally Fucked. After his first failed university attempt (one of two, and both at Northeastern), he spent some time in a non-combat role as a non-combatant in the US Army. Having swapped Quakerism for Marxism (and, in time, Marxism for Trotskyism), he exploited socialist rhetoric to garner the support of university students in the ’60s, and parlayed that support into his National Caucus of Labor Committees, which he founded in 1968. LaRouche has been dubbed a fascist, homophobe, anti-Semite, spy and cult leader, among other things. In 1992, he was sentenced to 15 years in jail for concealing income, mail fraud and conspiracy related to fundraising. (His supporters claim this imprisonment was totally baseless, a government plot to shut him up.)
Though he continues to rely heavily on the support of young adults, LaRouche’s ideologies have undergone a drastic transformation over the years. He now accuses our world of mirroring the Dark Ages, of nurturing counter-Enlightenment culture and perpetuating false axioms, of failing to be skeptical of how we think and why we think what we think.
In a way, he’s got us there: We’re a society driven by buzzwords and fear. To the extent that he’s credible, though, LaRouche is nefariously manipulative, and the LYM is salient proof. It’s his means of exploiting defenseless young adults to achieve political ends. Whether they’re defenseless on account of emotional vulnerability, substance abuse problems or general aimlessness, the LYM will target them and feed them a false feeling of empowerment, of belonging, which, like any good converts, they will duly try to spread.
“we’re having a meeting on wednesday. your welcome to come.” [sic]
Via email, Myles has invited me to several meetings, but I’ve declined each one on account of tiredness, work or, you know, rationality. Hoping to get a better understanding of this movement, I agree to go this time, and hop the T to Downtown Crossing.
At the LYM’s Winter Street office, I’m greeted with wonder and apprehension by a roomful of people who look about my age. Physically, there’s no predominant type of LaRouchian, and the lot of them are huddled around a table made haphazardly of desks. Once I mention Myles, I’m embraced. I’m told to stay for a reading of Kepler.
“Of course,” I say.
The place is reminiscent of a classroom—school desks, a piano in the corner, bookshelves stacked to the ceiling with LYM propaganda pamphlets—and that’s essentially how it functions. I’m about to participate in a reading as part of the “University on Wheels” curriculum, which LaRouche boasts is a school-like environment fostered by experiential learning and a community of young adults.
Before the reading takes place, there’s some organized blather about understanding, about how it’s necessary that we collectively retrace the steps of Kepler so we can discover the ways in which he understood. In trying to explain the importance of this, Myles inadvertently betrays a weakness of the movement: “[Kepler] even at one point stated that no one will understand his discoveries for another 100 years.” There is an intrinsic need for the LYM to ask questions no one else is asking, and to find answers no one else is finding.
The reading is done aloud with little luck in the way of pronouncing anything correctly, and the content of the piece is arbitrary. Despite this, and despite the numerous times I overhear someone mumble, “Oh! That’s a place, not a person!” and then feverishly scribble out a misinformed note, the people sitting around me feel that they are connecting with the text. It doesn’t matter to them that it’s outdated and ultimately inaccessible to them. It’s like the Latin Mass: They’re forging a connection because the text is obscure, and because they want to find inside it what they can’t find in society: a sense of purpose.
Eventually, and understanding them no more than I did when I arrived, I have to leave. I’m urged vigorously to stay, and compromise by allowing Myles to give me a tour of the LYM’s extensive pamphlet collection. When I remark that it must cost a lot of money to print them, Myles assures me that it’s the work of individual contributors who supported LaRouche in his previous runs for president.
“Vulnerable elderly people?” I contemplate asking, but I instead settle for, “Ooh, wow.”
After the first meeting, some time passes and I fall back into the habit of declining invitations, which are always sent via email, and which reveal even further the LYM’s unmistakable tendency to make No Sense At All. More than anything, Myles attempts to isolate me using esoteric language—a common method of coercion used by the LYM, as well as most extremist groups. By using terms that only a limited number of people can be expected to understand, or even recognize, members are able to empower themselves, to make recruits dependent on them for The Answers.
“Just as the outer crust of the Earth, including the atmosphere and oceans, is a product of the action of living processes … so the changes in the crust of the Earth represented by the effects of a force higher than life, human cognition, have created a Noösphere,” writes Myles—without context—in an email characterized by disjointed theories on human existence and thought. He offers no background or explanation, giving himself unparalleled control in a situation where I couldn’t have been expected to know that Noösphere (for the record) is the software used by PlanetMath, while Myles probably meant “noosphere,” the “sphere of human thought.”
After a few more entreaties, I decide to hit another meeting. Only this time, Myles is out of town for the week, and I meet someone named Ashly, a boy who joined the movement after he dropped out of school a few years ago. This isn’t surprising—a disproportionate number of LaRouchians have dropped out of school or left their jobs (if they had ones to begin with) to participate in the movement. I take a look around. A number of people sit huddled around a telephone, and an old man mutely tidies up the place. He doesn’t seem to be communicating with anyone, so I ask Ashly what his deal is. "Just some old guy that hangs out with us and helps out with what he can. Pretty good guy,” he says.
I turn to the boy sitting next to me, who tells me, “I do this full-time.” He encourages me to figure out what my life is all about, but instead I ask Ashly what the movement’s allure is. It seems fair to expect an answer from someone whose schooling and work are considerably less important than the politics of LaRouche.
“We have to figure out what to do with the future,” he says, though when I ask if he truly believes that the LYM will change the world, he admits to it being an experiment of sorts. “Do you fight for what you know is right even if all the odds are against you?” he asks.
He gives me an idea of what the night’s events will be: two political briefings, delivered uniquely. One will come in the form of a conference call from Leesburg, VA, where the group visits regularly to “educate senators on LaRouche’s platform.” Ashly emphasizes that they, the members of the movement, are the educators “being heard” and “making changes,” though I ask consistently what those changes are and am consistently denied a comprehensible answer. The other briefing will be delivered on-site by a member of the group.
The conference call is as erratic as one of Myles’s emails, marked by esoteric language and irrelevant ideas. Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Serbia and Yugoslavia, was the inexplicable subject of the briefing. I was hard-pressed to think of any reason why Milosevic would be even tangentially significant to the endeavors of a youth movement hinged on Bach and Kepler.
“He was poisoned to death in prison,” says Ashly, admitting that the LYM aren’t sure why that’s important yet. He tells me it’s an international crisis that they have to investigate, immediately evoking an image of the Scooby-Doo gang, chasing after specters of contemporary politics.
I don’t protest that Milosevic’s autopsies revealed his death as having been due to a heart attack, because it wouldn’t make a difference. The attendees have a hunch that “powerful circles” conspired against Milosevic, and it’s their intuition against mine.
Though the second briefing hasn’t even gotten underway, I feel it’s time to go. I’m met again with vigorous opposition, but am handed at long last two bundles of a pamphlet called “Franklin Roosevelt’s Legacy” and sent on my way.
In the hall, I meet an enthusiastic German girl who stops me to talk on the basis that I’m a fellow LaRouchian, adding to the movement’s momentum. She seems compassionate and friendly, telling me the extent to which the movement is succeeding internationally.
“It’s very exciting,” she says.
“But you wouldn’t know it,” I say. “No one really talks about it, right?”
“People don’t see us in the corrupt mass media, and they think we’re powerless. But if you act on the right principles …”
“That’s all that matters.”
“That’s all that really matters, yeah.”
Her exuberance is saddening. Though she works under the impression of confronting serious matters of political, human, economic and social importance, she’s caught in a perpetual system of recruitment and indoctrination. It’s possible that this is the point for an exclusive group of people who benefit from the LYM’s fundraising and provocation. For a majority of the movement’s young members, though, there is an absence of content in the movement. The platform they promote has little meaning, and the arguments they pose are bewildering except to those desperate to find sense in them.
As my contact with the LYM begins to wane, I flatly ask Myles what changes they are making, and get an expectedly circuitous response: “[A]nything I say to you about how and what we’re doing to change things, what’s succeeding, and how LaRouche’s ideas are being propogated [sic] through the institutions these past 3 decades will not be adequately communicated to you.”
They certainly haven’t been yet. I can’t help but imagine they won’t ever be, either, not least because they don’t seem to actually exist.