The Campus Quacks

Students should make clear that groups like LaRouche’s have no place on campus

Shopping period is annoying enough as it is; trying to avoid making eye contact with the professor of that class you just left before running across campus in seven-degree weather hardly makes for an enjoyable first week of classes. To add to this trauma, Harvard students recently had to face the extra challenge of trying to avoid followers of political agitator and perennial presidential candidate Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr. who decided to leave their usual perch in Harvard Square to flood the area near the Science Center with bizarre pamphlets and posters.

These activists, members the LaRouche Youth Movement, even made the unprecedented move of interrupting Harvard classes by singing a strange song about impeaching Vice President Dick Cheney.

The most disconcerting aspect of this turn of events was not that LaRouche—who is in his 80s and was more a staple of our parents’ generation—still actually has followers, but how nonchalantly Harvard students reacted to them. Most students dismiss the singing LaRouchians as simply another group of anti-war protesters.

What students fail to realize is just how crazy these people are—not just a little crazy, but follow-the-glorious-leader-and-drink-the-Kool-Aid crazy. LaRouche himself has concocted a whole range of bizarre conspiracy theories—claiming, for example, that the Beatles were British-trained soldiers used for psychological warfare. Despite his homophobic, misogynistic, and anti-Semitic statements, he runs regularly for President as a Democrat (much to party leaders’ annoyance) and believes Dick Cheney (or the “beast-man,” as he calls him) and Lynne Cheney to be the real powers behind the Bush administration.

While most of this seems rather funny and surreal, it masks a more sinister side. The Movement has been accused more than once of cult-like behavior and brainwashing its followers—just talk to some of those pamphleteers if you have any doubts.

Thankfully, the group remains relatively small, although they have stepped up their efforts at recruiting on college campuses. My fear is not that the LaRouchians will successfully recruit Harvard students into their cult, but that they will continue to be a constant blight on our campus—supposedly a place of rational discourse. My fury, as they thrust their nonsensical pamphlets into my book-laden arms, stems from the fact that their behavior pollutes the image of every reasonable and conscientious anti-war activist.

As America struggles in Iraq and public opinion shifts, it is more important than ever that we recognize which ideas are valid parts of the discourse on the war and which are not.

It needs to be made clear that, while critical questioning of our government’s actions constitutes legitimate dissent, the violent methods and crackpot theories of movements like the LaRouchians’ only damage the debate. When such groups are viewed as just another set of pacifist protesters, it means that we have trivialized the anti-war movement, undermining its reputation and ability to act. The Bush administration has repeatedly tried to portray the entire anti-war movement as crazy fanatics; allowing mainstream protesters to become indistinguishable from people like the LaRouchians makes these attacks even more effective.

Harvard students must not stand idly and risk letting the anti-war movement be co-opted by these kinds of malicious conspiracy theorists. We must take a more proactive role in honestly and productively discussing the issues surrounding the Iraq war and raising awareness on campus. We need to preserve the reputation of the anti-war movement and make it clear that groups like the LaRouche Youth Movement have no place de-legitimizing true, honest discourse on our campus by handing out their conspiratorial garbage.

Jacob M. Victor ’09, a Crimson editorial editor, is a social studies concentrator in Leverett House.