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.

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 Solidarite. 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.

LaRouche targets usually don't bother responding to such theatrical accusations. However, a LaRouche follower once baited Kissinger so mercilessly that his wife, Nancy Kissinger, nearly throttled the woman. The Kissingers were at Newark airport in 1981, en route to Boston, where Henry was to undergo triple-bypass surgery, when a LaRouche activist shouted insults at Henry such as, "Is it true that you sleep with young boys at the Carlyle Hotel?"

Nancy Kissinger took the woman by the throat and asked, "Do you want to get slugged?" The woman pressed charges, but a judge acquitted Nancy of misdemeanor assault.

More than two decades later, LaRouche is still unnerving Henry Kissinger. At the White House Correspondents' Association dinner last May a man approached Kissinger and invited him to meet his "nemesis" -- LaRouche, attending the dinner with representatives of his publication Executive Intelligence Review. Kissinger declined with obvious horror. LaRouche, appearing pleased with his residual power to alarm, was jovial. "Keep out of mischief," LaRouche told a reporter who witnessed the exchange, "unless you enjoy it."

LaRouche is more than a mischief-maker; he's a felon. In 1988, LaRouche was convicted of mail fraud, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and conspiracy to hide his personal income. Prosecutors argued that aggressive LaRouche fundraisers solicited more than $30 million in loans from supporters, many elderly, with false assurances they'd be repaid. While some lenders lost their life savings, the LaRouche organization spent millions on property, a swimming pool and a horse riding ring, according to testimony.

LaRouche maintained that the convictions were engineered to silence him politically and set him up to be murdered in prison. He survived. One of his cellmates was disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker, who later described LaRouche as amusing, erudite and convinced their cell was bugged. "To say that Lyndon was slightly paranoid," Bakker wrote in his autobiography, "would be like saying the Titanic had a bit of a leak."

In 1992, LaRouche ran for president from his cell, and taxpayers helped pay his way. The Federal Election Commission reluctantly awarded him federal campaign matching funds behind bars. Under federal campaign law, candidates seeking their party's presidential nomination qualify for matching funds by raising at least $5,000 in each of 20 states. The law makes no exceptions for felons.

Now, standing in the Washington hotel meeting room, LaRouche reveals a new plot afoot to deny him his rightful position of influence. Alluding to the death of Jeremiah Duggan, which has been covered in the British media, LaRouche suggests it's a hoax concocted by Cheney and his wife, Lynne, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to discredit him.

"This crowd is really coming after me," LaRouche says as his followers -- many of them in their early twenties -- nod their heads sympathetically. "They're trying to run an international, fake scandal through the British press, which they're going to bring into the United States . . . Because Cheney knows that if I'm not excluded . . . Cheney would be out."

For all LaRouche's attacks on the "dummy" and the "beast-man," the Bush-Cheney administration has been good for LaRouche. The nation at war has been good for LaRouche. It has allowed him to recruit students who weren't born when he was convicted of multiple felonies. The LaRouche Youth Movement has "hundreds" of members in the United States and "perhaps a lesser number abroad," LaRouche says by e-mail.

His new acolytes believe him when he says he can stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and save the world. They also believe that he's shaping them to help rule the world. He does so, they say, not merely by educating them about politics, history and the arts, but by turning them into authentic geniuses.

"You can actually teach genius," says 21-year-old Ed Hamler, one of LaRouche's new followers.

MEGHAN ROUILLARD, 20, LEFT GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY to join the LaRouche Youth Movement. "Being a patriot means doing everything in your power to change the country," she says as she and other youths mill about the Marriott lobby after the Webcast.

LaRouche is preparing them to wage a new American revolution, Matthew Ogden, 21, says. He was a music student, studying bassoon at Indiana University, when planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Now, like Rouillard, he spends much of his time trying to persuade other young people to escape "the whatever generation, the culture of dullness" and become "historic individuals."

Youth movement members attend LaRouche-sponsored classes where they learn how great figures of history such as Benjamin Franklin are similar to LaRouche. "You understand how they were operating in history and, even though they are dead, now you are actually carrying on their mission," Ogden explains. Hamler left Philadelphia University, where he'd been studying graphic design, two years ago to work fulltime for LaRouche, he says. "Morally , I couldn't not join," says Hamler who grew up in what he describes as a Philadelphia ghetto.

Hamler's parents didn't object, he says, because they're poor and understand the need to change the world. Rich people whose kids quit school to join LaRouche "freak out," Hamler says, "because they are in the baby boomer fantasy."

To LaRouche followers, baby boomers are a lost cause. Ruined by the conformity of the 1950s and the nuclear bomb scares and failed idealism of the '60s, they want to hide inside the cocoon of their mindless materialism. They expect their kids to do the same. "I can't stress this enough, baby boomers are insane," Hamler says. "They say: 'Don't mess with this LaRouche guy. You can't endanger my comfort zone.' They look at their kids as objects. They look at their kids as an extension of what they can get in life. But my parents are cool, so I don't have that problem."

LaRouche, he says, challenges young people to ask the most important question: What is truth? "LaRouche and the youth movement have discovered a method where you can discover truth," Hamler says.

What's the method? "We have to double the square," Hamler says, smiling.

LaRouche followers are big on doubling the square. Outside the room where LaRouche just spoke is a signboard marked with a square and the teasing question: "Can you double this square?" As Hamler leads a reporter through trying to double the square, a small crowd gathers. Young faces light up with encouraging smiles.

"This is from Plato; don't worry," Hamler says. "Let's say you have a square with an area of one, what are your sides going to be? That's right, one times one is one. Your area is one. Now, what I'm going to need you to do is double the area of the square. Physically, how could I produce a square with the area of two?"

A square where each side is two won't do. Its area would be four. "Once you investigate things like this, what you automatically run into is what is called the paradox," Hamler says. "You run into a problem that lies outside the way you are already thinking . . . You are going to have to think outside the way you were thinking to make this discovery, to make a breakthrough."

You could draw a square where each side is the square root of two -- but that number has an infinite decimal, with numerals stretching on forever. "How can you have a finite measurement?" Hamler asks. "How can you have a discrete side?"

So the problem can't be solved?

"No, it's doable," Hamler's friend chimes in. "There is a solution. But you are coming to see for yourself right now what happens when a system of thinking is, in itself, not adequate for the creation of something that you are looking for. When that's the case, if you are not willing to change the way you are thinking about it, you are screwed."

"That's what the baby boomers are, screwed," Hamler says.

The cheerful young men clearly relish this exercise. It's an important recruiting tool on street corners and college campuses across the United States and Europe. To join forces with LaRouche -- to enter his world of conspiracies and counter-conspiracies -- you have to accept that everything you know, even the way you think, is wrong.

THE WEEK OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, Jeremiah Duggan, an energetic young man with a mop of dark curls, moved to Paris to study. He carried an ambitious double course-load: French at the British Institute and English at the Sorbonne. He had a sunny personality, an international array of friends and a broad range of interests, according to his mother and friends. He wrote poetry. He relished literature, art and music -- the Beatles most of all. Jeremiah was always softhearted, the kind of person who believed every homeless person he passed on the street was his responsibility, his mother says. In Paris, spurred by world events, he paid attention to politics for the first time. He also fell in love with a French voice student.

In December 2002, he brought his girlfriend home to London to meet his family and experience their traditional Friday night Shabbat. Jeremiah's German-born grandfather lit the candles and sang kiddush. Later, Jeremiah's girlfriend and his grandfather sang a duet, an aria from "The Magic Flute." In the flickering candlelight Jeremiah looked so proud that his mother swore she would never forget the expression on his face. She hasn't. That visit was the last time she saw her son alive.

In early 2003, Jeremiah telephoned to say he'd met a LaRouche activist who wrote for a French-language LaRouche newspaper, Nouvelle Solidarite. The literature he gave Jeremiah to read in French didn't always make total sense, but Jeremiah chalked it up to his difficulty translating unfamiliar political terms, his mother says. The following March, on the eve of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Jeremiah phoned home to say the LaRouche activist had invited him to Germany for an antiwar conference and protest. Busy cramming for exams, he asked his mother to search the Internet for information about LaRouche. She tried, but misspelled the name as Laroche, and found nothing to alarm her. If she had spelled the name correctly, she might have learned that LaRouche's campaign Web site champions him as "the only qualified candidate for U.S. President with a political movement representing what Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to as the 'forgotten man.' " She also might have found anti-LaRouche electronic bulletin boards, where former adherents claim psychological abuse and parents of current followers seem desperate to extricate their children from the group. She could have found the Anti-Defamation League Web site, which charges that LaRouche is anti-Semitic and has ties to radical right Islamic groups. She might have stumbled across a LaRouche campaign press release, which lambastes its critics.

"They say things like LaRouche is a leader of a cult or that he is anti-Semitic, or some other vile epithet," the release says. "Don't be fooled by these rumors and lies." They originate from Gestapo-style "thought police," and the families of the financial oligarchy who "exert control over politics in the U.S., through the top-down management of 'approved' popular beliefs, and religions, just as the oligarchy of the Roman Empire administered political control through the approved pantheon of pagan gods."

But Erica didn't see any of that. Looking back at that moment, when a keystroke might have altered her son's fate, she starts to weep.

"I AM GOING TO MAKE YOU ORGANIZERS -- by taking your bedrooms away from you . . . What I shall do is expose to you the cruel act of your sexual impotence . . . I will take away from you all hope that you can flee the terrors of politics to the safety of 'personal life.' I shall do this by showing to you that your frightened personal sexual life contains for you such terrors as the outside world could never offer you. I will thus destroy your rabbit-holes, mental as well as physical. I shall destroy your sense of safety in the place to which you ordinarily imagine you can flee."

According to Dennis King, author of Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism, that is an announcement LaRouche made to his own followers in an early 1970s memo.

Becoming a faithful follower of LaRouche is like entering the Bizarro World of the Superman comic books, says Paul Kacprzak, 45, who joined LaRouche as an idealistic teenager in the 1970s and worked for him for about a decade. As long as you stay inside the movement, everything you are told makes a certain sense. But if you try to view it from the outside, he says, "it's Bizarro World."

Born in 1922, LaRouche spent a painful childhood in New England, he writes in a 1988 version of his autobiography, The Power of Reason. His parents were fundamentalist Quakers and fierce anti-communists. When other children taunted him, he writes, his father forbade him to fight back. He endured years of torment and "numerous beatings," from bullies.

He was an unsuccessful student, he recalls, because he refused to believe his teachers' accepted truths. In geometry class, for example, "I could not accept the axioms and postulates," LaRouche writes. Later, attending Northeastern University in Boston "enraged" him, he writes. His instructors "lacked the competence to teach me on conditions I was willing to tolerate." So he quit.

LaRouche's mother wanted him to become a minister. Instead, he became a communist organizer. As a leader of the National Caucus of Labor Committees, LaRouche ordered a series of physical attacks on rival groups, according to King. The attacks, which King says involved beatings with metal pipes, clubs and martial arts devices known as nunchuks, took place in New York and other cities in 1973 and 1974, and became known among leftists as "Operation Mop-Up." LaRouche's autobiography maintains that he and his followers were acting in self-defense.

During this period, LaRouche wrote about psychological techniques for transforming recruits into faithful organizers. In one treatise, "Beyond Psychoanalysis," he wrote that organizers should strip recruits of their egos and reduce them to a state called "little me," in order to rebuild their personalities around a new socialist identity. LaRouche opined in another manifesto, "The Sexual Impotence of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party," that "Sexual impotency is generally the causal root of Left political impotency." To become politically potent, he said, leftists must confront their sexual problems, such as their fear of and desire for their sadistic mothers.

For three decades, LaRouche and his followers have accused enemies, including American, Soviet and British intelligence agencies, of sending brainwashed zombies to assassinate him. In December 1973, a 26-year-old British LaRouche associate named Christopher White claimed that he had been brainwashed as part of a plot to kill LaRouche. LaRouche activists announced that they'd been forced to put White through a grueling "de-programming," and offered recordings of the sessions to a New York Times reporter as proof.

"There are sounds of weeping, and vomiting on the tapes, and Mr. White complains of being deprived of sleep, food and cigarettes," the resulting Times story says. "At one point someone says 'raise the voltage,' but (LaRouche) says this was associated with the bright lights used in the questioning rather than an electric shock."

"During the intensive questioning on one day, Mr. White complains of a terrible pain in his arm," the story says, adding that LaRouche can be heard telling him: "That's not real. That's in the program."

Soon afterward, the Times reported, another LaRouche follower, Alice Weitzman, wrote a desperate note claiming that she was being held prisoner, folded her plea for help into a paper airplane, and sailed it out the window of her New York City apartment. According to the Times, when police arrived, they found several LaRouche followers who said they were "staying" with Weitzman because she had been brainwashed as part of a plot to kill LaRouche.

Brainwashing hysteria quickly spread through the LaRouche organization, Kacprzak says. He attended LaRouche meetings in the United States where there were "people writhing on the floor saying, 'I've been brainwashed, somebody de-program me!' "

In 1977, LaRouche married a much younger German woman, Helga Zepp, a key organizer for his operations in Europe. Their relationship, his second marriage, had a profound impact on LaRouche organizations in the United States, Kacprzak recalls. "We basically became a German organization," he says. "We'd have classes in German. They'd be teaching German language. We'd be reading German poetry."

At one point, Kacprzak and his colleagues received a memo announcing that after LaRouche was elected president, he would declare his wedding anniversary a holiday and give all U.S. workers a week off. "A couple of things hit me," says Kacprzak. "One, this is frigging crazy, and, two, how come nobody in this frigging office thinks this is crazy?"

LaRouche had led his followers to the political right by the time Ronald Reagan reached the White House. He added environmentalists to his list of enemies, talked about having connections in the intelligence world, championed nuclear energy and the Strategic Defense Initiative, and sought donations from retirees and disaffected farmers in the heartland.

LaRouche also relocated his headquarters from New York City to Leesburg, then a sleepy semirural town of about 12,000 people. Many followers moved with him, along with business enterprises such as printing operations. Corporations operated by LaRouche associates bought property worth millions.

LaRouche moved into a rented mansion patrolled by heavily armed guards. According to a 1985 Washington Post series, there were sandbag-buttressed guard posts and metal spikes in the driveway. The gun-toting guards alarmed the locals. So did LaRouche's rhetoric. LaRouche said he needed the security because teams of assassins were gunning for him and just might start slaughtering people on the streets of Leesburg.

Civic leaders who criticized LaRouche were denounced by followers and in LaRouche literature as commies, homosexuals, drug pushers or international terrorists. According to one published report, LaRouche denounced the Leesburg Garden Club as a "nest" of Soviet sympathizers. One lawyer who opposed LaRouche on a zoning matter went into hiding after what she told the New York Times were menacing phone calls and a death threat. In October 1986, more than 275 armed officers from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies staged a dawn raid on LaRouche's Leesburg operations. LaRouche and six followers were later arrested and convicted of multiple felonies stemming from their aggressive fundraising operations. As a result, the Federal Election Commission, which had sparred with LaRouche over the years, tried to stop funding his presidential aspirations while he was in jail, but LaRouche challenged the decision in federal appeals court and won in 1993. LaRouche was released from prison the following year, but his operations have never fully recovered from the criminal convictions, former members say. Many followers left the organization. One of LaRouche's former vice presidential candidates is mixing paint and stocking shelves at a Virginia hardware store.

Yet by his own reckoning LaRouche has had a "cumulatively large and probably permanent" impact on American politics. Government prosecutions of him, he writes in his e-mail, ultimately made him "a folk hero" in the United States and around the world. He doesn't rule out the possibility of making a ninth presidential bid in 2008. "My ghost will not be laid," he writes. According to federal financial disclosures, LaRouche reported in 2003 that he earns a salary of $26,451 from his Executive Intelligence Review News Service Inc. and lives in a rented home in Round Hill, Va. The remote estate is on an unpaved road, a mile off the blacktop. At the foot of LaRouche's driveway, stone dogs sit sentry. There is a metal security gate and a phone box visitors must use to gain entry. From the crotch of a nearby tree, a security camera is trained on the phone box.

Neighbor John Ross says he is glad to have the heavily guarded LaRouche living next door because "nobody is going to break into my house." Strolling his pasture one night, Ross spotted LaRouche security patrols wearing night-vision goggles. Once, Ross's scanner picked up their chatter as they communicated with each other with hand-held devices, he says. They were speaking German.

THERE WERE PROTESTERS ALL OVER THE NATIONAL MALL the spring day in 2002 when Michael Scott Winstead stopped to chat with a LaRouche organizer from Baltimore. Winstead gave the organizer his phone number and said he wanted to help stop the war in Afghanistan.

Winstead, a dark-haired former actor who'd once had a role in the touring company of Up With People, was at low ebb. He'd left college without a degree. He had dreamed of a career in the theater but was working as an office temp. Soon after his chance meeting on the Mall, Winstead attended a LaRouche speech and then a "cadre school" to learn how to be a LaRouche Youth Movement organizer. The cadre school, held at a Virginia state park, was a taxing series of lectures and discussions that "scared you to death" about the state of the world, says Winstead, now 28. "He tells these kids 'You have no future, you are finished, the economy is collapsing. It's going to be famine and flood . . . unless you find not God, but find me, or support me, or we win.' In times like this someone could look around and believe that. Things are bad, right?"

He joined the youth movement without hesitation. Soon, he was living in a house with other LaRouche followers and working fulltime at the Baltimore field office, a red brick building in an industrial park. He'd been promised a salary of $300 a week, but his paychecks dwindled, he says. When he asked why, he recalls, "They said, 'Well, you know we have to send Lyn all over Europe.' "

There were some benefits to the job. He was exhilarated when youth movement members stormed a political gathering shouting slogans, or showed up en masse without an appointment at some congressman's office. It made Winstead and his cohorts feel powerful, he says, and it was a group bonding experience. Bonding with the group was important because, they were told, they had a crucial mission.

The group's leaders, Winstead says, "were constantly asking us if we would die for these ideas." At one retreat of about 100 young people, a LaRouche organizer asked for a show of hands. "Most of the group raised their hands," Winstead says. "I think I did. The thing is, they frame it along the lines of Martin Luther King's [notion that] a man who hasn't found anything to die for isn't fit to live."

Visits home were frowned upon, he says. Parents were derided as "brainwashed baby boomers" or agents of the worldwide conspiracy against LaRouche.

LaRouche followers were expected to work six days a week, he says, beginning at 8 a.m., when a few dozen activists would gather at the office to sing -- typically old slave spirituals. Then they'd listen via speakerphone to an organization leader give a news briefing highlighting events that, Winstead says, "support their view that the world is crumbling basically and the economy is collapsing."

By 9 a.m., older members, some of whom had followed LaRouche for decades, were working the phones to raise money. Younger recruits loaded card tables and literature into cars, then fanned out to troll for new members. Everyone was given a daily quota of money to raise, Winstead recalls. If they hadn't made quota by late afternoon, they'd stake out intersections with long red lights and work the left-turn lane. "There's a horrible war," Winstead would tell anyone who'd roll down the window. "Lyndon LaRouche is going to stop it. Here's the paper; make a donation."

By 5:30 p.m., Winstead and his colleagues returned to the field office for another news briefing before dinner. Then they'd launch a new round of work: telephoning potential recruits. "That generally goes on until 10 at night," he says. "If it's not done, then you are pretty much in trouble."

Winstead was pretty much in trouble. He turned out to be not much of a true believer after all. He thought meetings where members professed that they were unworthy to follow LaRouche were like parodies of tent revivals. He wondered why, for all their talk of saving the world, LaRouche activists didn't seem to accomplish much other than raising money and recruiting new members.

He was stunned, at first, to find out what happened when he asked questions or complained. "Maybe you are too [expletive] busy [masturbating] thinking about your mother to go out and organize," he recalls one of the leaders barking at him. "How much money did you raise today?"

"I'm caught off-guard, like, what the hell just happened?" Winstead recalls. "The yelling goes on for maybe five or 10 minutes while I'm furiously backpedaling."

Eventually, he became accustomed to the humiliating insults and tirades. "They call it making somebody a self-conscious organizer," he says. "It is about getting somebody to break down and cry, just to have an emotional collapse. Once you do that, then people are malleable."

LaRouche declined to discuss how members of his youth movement are treated, characterizing a series of questions about those practices as "simply garbage."

According to Winstead, attacking someone for having "mother issues," being homosexual or sexually perverse seemed to be a common strategy for controlling members in the office where he worked. Leaders directed the group to gang up on colleagues for minor infractions, a phenomenon Winstead calls "wolf-packing." It was effective, he says.

Once he witnessed organizers surround and berate a woman, he says. The sobbing woman tried to leave, but one organizer wrestled her back into a chair, Winstead says. She didn't resist again, he says.

Another time, Winstead says, a member having second thoughts about the group asked him for a ride to the bus station so he could visit relatives. Winstead obliged, infuriating movement leaders. "That whole week I just got pounded [by] everyone in the organization. It was comments like . . . 'Mike, you've been driving people away from this movement! You are an agent, aren't you?' "

One day a member of LaRouche's inner circle of advisers was giving a lecture when he touched upon a favorite topic in the movement -- brainwashing. He mentioned a 1957 book on the subject, Battle for the Mind. Curious, Winstead tracked down the book at a library.

"Various types of belief can be implanted in people, after brain function has been sufficiently disturbed by accidentally or deliberately induced fear, anger or excitement," the author, William Sargant, wrote. "Of the results caused by such disturbances, the most common one is temporarily impaired judgment and heightened suggestibility."

Chinese communists "spread their gospel," the author noted, through psychological conditioning: inventing enemies, isolating trainees in special locations, keeping them exhausted by performing demeaning tasks and learning difficult new terminology, using informers to keep people tense and uncertain, and forcing them to sever ties with family and friends, even encouraging their recruits, as Hitler had, to denounce their parents.

Winstead felt ill, he says. "I sat there and I read exactly what I had been going through for the last six months," he says. "It definitely had worked on me quite a bit, more than I'd like to admit to myself then or now."

Now Winstead wanted out. He was scared, he says.

That night Winstead returned to the house he shared with LaRouche organizers. Before he went to bed, he piled furniture in front of his bedroom door. Next to the bed he placed a chef's knife, just in case he had to defend himself.

He repeated that ritual for several nights, he says, while he compiled an "intelligence report" outlining what he'd read about brainwashing techniques. The day he left the LaRouche Youth Movement, he says, he stuffed the memo into the mailboxes of other members, packed up his car, drove to his mother's house and hid.

THE MOOD WAS APOCALYPTIC AS PEOPLE GATHERED AT A LAROUCHE CONFERENCE in Bad Schwalbach, Germany, on March 21, 2003. After tense weeks of international debate, the air assault on Baghdad was underway.

The conference was sponsored by the Schiller Institute, an organization founded by LaRouche's wife and named for the 18th century German poet Friedrich von Schiller. The institute is dedicated to reviving the spirit of the American Revolution and the German classical period, according to its official Web site, which lists its address as a Washington, D.C., post office box.

As LaRouche claimed the floor for his keynote address, he denounced Bush as an "unreformed drunk." Corruption in the White House is pervasive and long-standing, LaRouche informed his listeners, some of whom had come from as far away as Russia and Nigeria. Woodrow Wilson founded the Ku Klux Klan from the White House, LaRouche charged. President John F. Kennedy "was not killed by Oswald; he was killed by a special operation, inside our country, called the Special Warfare Section, which does these kinds of things."

Now the United States is using Iraq to ignite catastrophic global warfare, said LaRouche, according to the official transcript of his speech posted on his campaign Web site. The Bush Administration "is totally committed to worldwide fascist imperialism," LaRouche warned, adding that North Korea, Iran and China are already targets.

If anyone in the audience found this scenario too fantastic, LaRouche had an answer: It was not safe for them to trust their own thoughts. They needed to be retrained to recognize the truth. "Don't trust your own independent thinking," LaRouche said. "You probably don't have any independent thinking. But you delude yourself that you do."

Jeremiah Duggan dutifully took notes on unlined sheets of paper, which his parents later found in his suitcase. "Question your own false assumptions," he wrote.

LaRouche told his audience that this plot to launch a new world war has been intellectually influenced by people who, like Hitler, admire Nietzsche, but "being Jewish, they couldn't qualify for Nazi Party leadership, even though their fascism was absolutely pure! As extreme as Hitler! They sent them to the United States."

"Now are these guys the cause of the war?" LaRouche asked. "No. They're only lackeys.

"If Israel goes to war in the Middle East, Israel will be destroyed, like a hand grenade which has been thrown. When it reaches its destination, it explodes. It does the job, and then it fragments. It doesn't exist anymore.

"So, is Israel behind this? No. Israel is a hand grenade being thrown at the Arab world . . . George Bush hasn't got the brains to be behind it. Who's behind it? . . . The independent central-banking-system crowd, the slime-mold. The financier interests." The very same people, LaRouche explained, who brought Hitler to power in 1930. Forces must be mobilized to crush this terrible plot, LaRouche said.

"Leadership means one thing," he concluded. "It means people who, like Jeanne d'Arc" -- Joan of Arc -- "are willing to put their lives on the line to get the job done."

Speakers at the three-day conference returned again and again to the martyrdom theme, LaRouche-posted transcripts of their speeches show. Elodie Viennot, a LaRouche leader in France, asked the young people present if they could be as brave as Joan of Arc if they were taken to Guantanamo Bay and interrogated mercilessly "because you are associated with Lyndon LaRouche?"

She urged her audience to heed LaRouche's call to take Joan of Arc as their role model and make their bid for immortality: "They burned her alive, and she didn't flinch at all . . . Are you willing to put your life on the line? Because your life might actually never die if you accomplish those matters . . . If you know you are fighting for the good, nobody can touch you. They can't get you to flicker."

Jeremiah was critical of much of what he was hearing at the conference, a French university student who befriended him there later told his mother. But he and the French student decided to stay on together for a much smaller cadre school, where LaRouche organizers would be trained. After that, there would be an antiwar protest in Berlin. The cadre school was held at a youth hostel in Wiesbaden. There were about 50 people there, one participant said.

Jeremiah stood out. Not only was he Jewish, he was British. According to Jeremiah's written notes, at least one speaker described the Tavistock Institute, a public health research center in London, as a brainwashing center. Jeremiah, as it happened, had firsthand experience with Tavistock. When he was 7 and his parents were divorcing, they took the family to Tavistock for counseling. At the cadre school, Jeremiah discussed his experience at Tavistock with LaRouche organizers, participants later told his mother. His parents wonder if Jeremiah's nationality, religion and comments about attending Tavistock marked him as an "agent" or special target.

Late the night of Tuesday, March 25, Jeremiah telephoned his girlfriend, Maya, in Paris to say he couldn't get a ride home until Sunday and didn't have the money to take a train or bus, she recounted in a written statement for a British inquest. Very serious things were happening, he told her, but he indicated that he couldn't talk just then and would have to explain later. The next day some cadre school participants handed out LaRouche literature in nearby Frankfurt. Afterward, they visited an art museum. A Frenchwoman in their group asked Jeremiah what he thought of the exhibit. He didn't answer. He started to cry.

The Frenchwoman, who has since left the LaRouche organization and didn't want to be identified because she fears reprisals, asked why he was crying.

"I don't trust LaRouche," she recalls him saying nervously. Jeremiah, she says, wanted to go home.

The Frenchwoman told him that he was free to go, she says. "I said, well, you are not forced to do anything you do not want," the woman recalls. "If you want to just go back, you can. I tried to reassure him. He embraced me very strongly and thanked me for listening to him."

She got the impression that he was going to leave for home immediately.

THE FIRST THING JEREMIAH SAID when he telephoned his girlfriend early Thursday, March 27, 2003, was that he was under "too much pressure."

"I asked him what kind of pressure, but he didn't explain himself coherently," she recounted in her written statement to British authorities. "His voice was very small and weak."

Jeremiah's limbs hurt and his mouth was dry, he told her. "He said they were doing experiments on people with computers . . . and magnetic things . . . the government," his girlfriend recalled in her statement. "I was very worried, but wondered if he hadn't started to imagine things because of information overload . . . He also told me he no longer knew what reality was, what was truth and what was lies."

Jeremiah's girlfriend begged him to take a train to Paris right away. He promised he would, though in their disjointed conversation they didn't talk about where he might get money for a ticket. Not long afterward, Jeremiah placed the two desperate phone calls to his mother, both of which ended abruptly. Frantic and confused, his mother made predawn calls to law enforcement agencies in Britain, telling them that she believed her son had stumbled into a terrorist organization in Germany and needed help.

It was too late.

Just before 6 a.m. in Wiesbaden, the driver of a BMW saw a pedestrian run into the roadway. He swerved, he later told police, but clipped the young man with his side-view mirror, knocking him down. Jeremiah got up and ran. Minutes later, two more cars came into view, moving fast. A red Peugeot swerved. Jeremiah leapt forward, the driver later said. His arms were raised. His mouth was open. The windshield and a passenger door window of the car shattered. Jeremiah went down. The driver of a blue Golf ran him over. Jeremiah had massive head trauma and died on the road.

German police quickly concluded that Jeremiah had committed suicide by leaping into traffic. They concentrated their investigation on the accident scene. They talked to drivers and measured skid marks, but didn't probe deeply into how Jeremiah spent his final hours or investigate alternatives to suicide, police records indicate. LaRouche activists brought Jeremiah's luggage and passport to the police station.

Jeremiah's parents arrived in Wiesbaden the next day. There, they met with German police, who told them LaRouche officials claimed that Jeremiah had suffered from suicidal impulses and had been a mental patient at the Tavistock Institute.

Erica and Hugo Duggan were stunned at first, then outraged. Jeremiah had no history of mental illness or suicide attempts, according to evidence later offered at a British inquest.

A British coroner convened a court hearing last year to determine how Jeremiah died. According to a transcript of the inquest, he found no evidence to support a ruling of suicide. "I could not accept the investigators' bald conclusion that Jeremiah Duggan intended to take his own life," the coroner, a magistrate, concluded. He noted that, based on the evidence he'd heard, Jeremiah had been "in a state of terror." He lamented that he lacked authority to compel German witnesses to answer his lingering questions. "What was it that turned that young man into a terrified young man?" the coroner asked. "Sadly, we might never know . . ."

Jeremiah's parents are campaigning for German authorities to reopen the case, and the British government has provided them with a lawyer to help. Meanwhile, the Duggans are conducting their own investigation. They want to know if their son was trying to find someone to help him when he ran into the road.

"How do you try to flag down a speeding car?" Erica Duggan asks softly. Wouldn't you jump forward, arms raised and mouth open -- screaming?

MICHAEL WINSTEAD WAS SO SHAKEN AFTER HE QUIT the LaRouche Youth Movement that he barely spoke to anyone for weeks, he says.

Eventually, he sent anti-LaRouche letters to local newspapers and colleges where he'd tried to recruit for the movement. He chatted in anti-LaRouche Internet discussion groups, trading war stories with former followers, sparring with current devotees. In May, he mentioned on one electronic bulletin board that he had given an interview to a reporter asking about LaRouche and Jeremiah Duggan.

Soon afterward, the New Federalist, a LaRouche newspaper, ran a photo of Winstead on its front page under the headline: "The Washington Post's Latest Pervert: Michael Winstead." The accompanying article suggested that Winstead and The Post are part of the worldwide conspiracy against Lyndon LaRouche.

The June 25 issue of LaRouche's Executive Intelligence Review suggested that Jeremiah's death was not only part of a U.S.-British conspiracy to "get LaRouche," it was also linked to the failed search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the suicide of British weapons expert and senior civil servant David Kelly. Though the publication doesn't explain the connection, it lists them on the same timeline as if they are part of the same unfolding anti-LaRouche plot.

In his e-mail, LaRouche declined to answer questions about Jeremiah's time in Germany or his death, noting that the matter is addressed in one of his latest pieces of campaign literature, "Children of Satan III: The Sexual Congress for Cultural Fascism." That publication contends that Jeremiah was mentally ill and points out that German authorities continue to stand by their finding of suicide. It portrays Jeremiah's grieving mother as a dupe who has been pressured into joining the worldwide conspiracy to get LaRouche: "The objective of the media smear campaign, linking LaRouche-affiliated organizations to the Duggan suicide, is to build pressure in several Continental European countries, and eventually launch a major disruption of the LaRouche campaign . . . to assure that if there is a John Kerry Presidency, LaRouche will be nowhere near the premises."

FOR MORE THAN A YEAR NOW, Erica Duggan has been possessed by the very question that young LaRouche activists say they burn to answer: "What is truth?"

With her gentle voice, cascade of soft red curls and open manner, the 58-year-old mother makes an unlikely agitator. She spent her career helping immigrant children adjust to London schools. She is spending her retirement and savings pursuing clues to her son's death. She sold her home and is using the proceeds to investigate. She is meeting with human rights lawyers and maintaining a Web site called Justiceforjeremiah.com to publicize and fund her cause.

She has moved into her parents' cozy home on the outskirts of London and turned an upstairs room into her command center. It is crammed with bulging files. From the window there is a view of the lush garden below. She gazes instead at her computer screen, downloading literature, researching LaRouche organizations, trading e-mail with former members and critics who are trying to help her. Not long ago, she obtained the phone number of the LaRouche activist in Paris who had invited her son to attend the German conference from which he never returned. She called. He pretended to be someone else, she says. She rang back. He hung up. She called again. Three times. Four times. He told her she was harassing him. She told him that he was the reason her son went to Germany, so he owed it to her to tell her what happened.

"I found myself raving and crying," she recalls. "I said, 'Do you want to see a photo of how he ended up?' "

It is an irony not lost on Erica that LaRouche, veteran weaver of conspiracy theories involving the British and Zionists, is being pursued by a Jewish mother from Britain. She has become an accidental but determined traveler in his realm of plots and apocalyptic fantasies. She even wonders if LaRouche partisans are tracking her movements, hacking into her e-mail.

Sometimes she thinks about showing up at one of LaRouche's speeches and disrupting it the way LaRouche activists disrupt other people's events. She'd like to pose some hard questions from the audience: How dare he dismiss her son's death as a hoax? How dare he talk about saving the world when he doesn't have the humanity to help a grieving mother find the truth?

It is very late, almost midnight in London. She is very tired. And dark fantasies are infectious. "I suppose he has security people who have guns, and they might try to shoot me," she says, speaking softly. "Then the world would know the truth, wouldn't they?"

April Witt is a Magazine staff writer.