The desperation in her son's voice jolted Erica Duggan fully awake.
"Mum, I'm in big trouble," Jeremiah, a 22-year-old college student, said into the phone quietly, as though trying not to be overheard.
Lyndon LaRouche addresses supporters during an April 30 Webcast in Washington.
(Stuart Lewis - EIRNS)
It was nearly 4:30 a.m. in London. Erica Duggan, a retired teacher, had been awake even before the phone rang. Restless -- a mother's instinct, she would later say -- she'd gone down to the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea.
It was March 27, 2003, the eighth day of the war in Iraq. Antiwar sentiment was high across Europe. Erica's idealistic son had gone to Germany to attend an antiwar protest and conference with a group called Nouvelle Solidarité. All Jeremiah told his mother about the group before he left was that its views were "extreme" and that it was affiliated with an American presidential candidate she'd never heard of, a man named Lyndon LaRouche. Now her son's phone call made it clear that something had gone wrong.
"This involves Solidarity," Erica recalls her son saying before he added: "I can't do this. I want out. It is not something I can do.''
Alarmed, she tried to assure her son that he didn't have to do anything with this group that he didn't want to. Then the line went dead. Almost immediately, Jeremiah rang back.
"I'm frightened," she remembers him saying, his voice hushed and strained.
"What is it?" his panicked mother demanded. "Tell me!"
Jeremiah seemed to be having trouble speaking. "He sounded terrified," Erica says. "Because of that I found myself saying, 'I love you.' It just came out. I thought his life was in danger.
"When I said, 'I love you,' then he said to me in a very, very loud voice, 'I want to see you NOW.' "
"Where are you?" his mother cried.
"Wiesbaden," he said.
She had difficulty making out the name of the German city, and she asked him to spell it. Erica's father, a German-born Jew, had fled Hitler's Germany. Most of his relatives perished in the Holocaust. Now her only son was somewhere in Germany, and was telling her that he was in peril.
Jeremiah began spelling Wiesbaden. He wasn't halfway through the letters when the line cut off again.
Thirty-five minutes later, Jeremiah was dead. He lay crumpled on a roadway into town, his arms stretched out before him as if he were a boy again, reaching to catch a ball.
Jeremiah's death has propelled his parents into the political orbit of Lyndon LaRouche, a realm of plots, counterplots and apocalyptic prophesies that they hadn't known existed. Their campaign to learn the circumstances of their son's death has brought rare scrutiny to an American politician whose eight presidential campaigns have netted him two precious commodities: millions in federal matching funds and a cadre of fresh-faced recruits who, like Jeremiah Duggan, want to help save the world.
"THIS SYSTEM IS BREAKING DOWN," LaRouche says. "It is crumbling . . . The crisis is here."
LaRouche, 82, is glowering behind outsize eyeglasses. His hair is wispy on his prominent head. His shoulders stoop. Yet he still projects supreme self-assurance. It is April 30, 2004, and LaRouche is speaking at the Marriott at Metro Center in Washington. Important supporters around the globe, his staff says, are listening via the Internet. Inside a spacious meeting room, dozens of other followers sit rapt in folding chairs.
A sinister network of conspirators is about to plunge the world into a new Dark Age, LaRouche warns, but it's not too late. He can save mankind. That is why he must be elected president. "I have a better chance of being elected than you have of surviving if I'm not," LaRouche tells the assembly. "And that's a fact. It's not an exaggeration."
The octogenarian denounces President Bush as a "dummy sitting on the knee of a Vice President Cheney." Cheney "is controlled by strings from his wife, who is worse than Cheney is! She's the clever one," LaRouche continues. "He's the dumb brute who's holding the strings on the president, the marionette."
This attack is relatively mild for LaRouche. He frequently refers to the vice president as "the beast-man." His followers stage noisy sidewalk protests featuring a man wearing a Cheney mask and a medieval Crusader's get-up. Now, as LaRouche speaks, a giant photograph of Cheney snarling is projected on the wall. The audience titters at the unflattering shot.
To prevent catastrophic, perpetual, worldwide religious warfare -- the ultimate clash of civilizations -- LaRouche demands that Bush adopt the LaRouche Doctrine for Southwest Asia. Listening to his rambling talk, it is difficult to make out just what the LaRouche Doctrine for Southwest Asia is except that it apparently "follows precisely the guidelines of the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia."
"As a matter of fact, there is going to be no solution to the crisis in Southwest Asia unless we can adopt it as my doctrine -- by name!" LaRouche says. "Because nobody else has the credibility to do what has to be done . . . If they're serious about saving the country and dealing with the problem, they would talk with me. Why don't they talk? . . . What does that mean?"
LaRouche, who lives and works behind a curtain of secrecy and security in Northern Virginia, has been asking that question for much of his public life. Always, he comes up with the same answer: People are out to get him. Powerful people -- Zionists, bankers, the British. People who control the Republican and Democratic parties and ensure his votes aren't counted. People, according to LaRouche and his followers, who have plotted to send brainwashed zombies to assassinate him.
LaRouche and his international network of organizations champion an eccentric mix of issues. They've lobbied the music world to lower the standard pitch of middle "C" to spare singers vocal strain. They've advocated quarantining AIDS patients. They want to send manned fusion-powered spacecraft to establish a permanent colony on Mars.
In three decades of failed U.S. presidential bids, LaRouche has never won more than 80,000 votes in any election cycle, never emerged as more than a fringe figure joked about in late-night television monologues and on "The Simpsons." He began running for president in 1976 -- the first year presidential elections were publicly financed. Since then he has run seven more times, and garnered $5.9 million in federal matching campaign funds. This election cycle alone he has received more than $1.4 million.
Loyal aides, some of whom have been with LaRouche since their student days protesting the Vietnam War, accuse the mainstream media of refusing to cover LaRouche. Yet they limit access to him, often delivering his message through avenues they control: LaRouche Web sites, newspapers, paid radio and television advertisements. LaRouche aides declined to let a Post Magazine reporter follow him on the campaign trail or interview him in person. LaRouche agreed to field e-mailed questions, but he answered them selectively, dismissing some as "silly" and others as "dredging into the garbage-dumps of slanders and libels against me."
LaRouche calls himself a Democrat, much to the chagrin of the Democratic National Committee. As he sought the party's nomination during this year's primaries, his supporters often disrupted Democratic events. At a Baltimore debate last fall, some candidates froze as LaRouche activists in the audience heckled them for excluding LaRouche. Al Sharpton, no stranger to the power of orchestrated confrontations, won applause when he accused the LaRouche partisans of being phony liberals. At a New Hampshire town meeting for retired general Wesley Clark, LaRouche supporters shouted and sang until security personnel hauled them away.
LaRouche, who expresses loathing for timid conformists, wears belligerence like a badge. He and his supporters accuse perceived enemies of slander, crimes, plots and perversions. Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda had nothing to do with the September 11, 2001, attacks, LaRouche says. Elements within the U.S. military launched the attacks as an attempted coup. Defense Undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz was one of the conspirators, LaRouche claims, along with former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and the Israeli army.