Lyndon LaRouche seated with his hands clasped.

Lyndon LaRouche: An Explainer

An attempt to troll U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) in early October 2019 led to newfound attention for the devotees of failed political candidate, convicted felon, and one-time Marxist-turned-Democratic-presidential-candidate-turned-far-right disinformation purveyor Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr., whose camera-friendly stunts and corrosive conspiracy theories are used to great effect in the social media age.

A political action committee named after the conspiracy theorist and eight-time presidential candidate claimed responsibility for an encounter between Ocasio-Cortez and a woman during a town hall event in Corona, New York on October 3, 2019. The woman apparently acting in an agitator capacity told the lawmaker, “We’re not going to be here much long because of the climate crisis. We got to start eating babies.”

As video of the encounter spread online, far-right social media users (along with the usual bots and paid trolls) spread the hashtag #EatTheBabies. According to historian Matthew Sweet, the event fit a long-term pattern of behavior from supporters of LaRouche, who died in February 2019.

“The tactic is you go to a political meeting and you create a disturbance that disrupts the meeting, and more importantly, that creates a kind of chaos,” Sweet told the Washington Post.

While he once identified himself politically as a leftist and ran for president as both part of the now-defunct U.S. Labor Party and the Democratic Party, LaRouche was known for spewing antisemitic and racist viewpoints alongside his beliefs that, among other things, the world was secretly being controlled by the British; a month before his death, the LaRouche PAC claimed that England was part of an ongoing coup attempt against United States President Donald Trump alongside “loyalists” for former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as “politically correct millennials and sour Deep State apparatchiks in the news media.”

During Barack Obama’s presidency, LaRouche’s supporters tried to compare him to Adolf Hitler for supporting the Affordable Care Act (a comparison that was picked up with great enthusiasm by members of the Tea Party wing of Republican politics) rather than a push into a nationalized medical aid program. LaRouche himself also notoriously minimized the actual Holocaust, claiming in 1988 that “only” 1.5 million Jewish people died during that period.

In 1988, same year he dipped his toe into the waters of Holocaust denial, LaRouche was convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice after misleading supporters by claiming that his organization had no discretionary funds while at the same time soliciting $34 million in “loans” from them. He was released from federal prison in 1994.

Authors and researchers who have studied LaRouche have also seen parallels between his and the Trump administration’s tactics, not to mention Donald Trump himself: after the latter’s election in November 2016 Dennis King — who wrote the book Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism — said of Trump, “We now have a President whose personality, behavior and unhinged rants have more in common with those of LaRouche–a small-time Hitler, cult leader and convicted fraudster–than to any major party Presidential nominee, either winner or loser, in our time” in a post showing 35 points of comparison between the two men, including a shared reliance on a political “big con.” King wrote:

In both cases, there is a claim of infallibility, including an unwillingness to acknowledge any past mistakes. In one case (LaRouche) there is reliance on a cooked-up ideology; in the other case (Trump) there is reliance on a convenient external ideological source–the white “nationalist” alt-right. In both cases, there is intimidation of and the projection of hate against those won’t go along–Trump called on followers at his rallies to isolate and throw out peaceful protesters and indeed incited his followers to violence in such cases (thus making them complicit with his intolerance and psychologically anchoring their support for him); LaRouche did something similar (in smaller settings) by getting followers to engage in ego-stripping of a single hapless victim. In both cases there is an us-versus-them rhetoric, with followers being made to feel beleaguered by hostile forces that are unremittingly evil. In both cases, preexisting prejudices are used as the “engine” for growth–in the size of the foll0wing (Trump) and in the intensity of the followers’ commitment (LaRouche).

After LaRouche’s death, journalist and writer Joel Bellman — who investigated LaRouche’s extremism and political tactics — observed:

For many of us who worked the LaRouche story over the years, the rise of an extremist demagogue like Donald Trump has held a particularly fearful resonance. We tried to sound warnings back in 2016 — here’s what I previously wrote in this space, here’s what Rachel Maddow broadcast, and here Dennis King, one of the earliest and most prominent LaRouche experts, weighed in — but too few were listening.

So we laugh at the comically deranged Lyndon LaRouche because “it can’t happen here.” But as we are brutally reminded, every single day, it already has.