Jonathan Prestage was a reporter with the Manchester Union-Leader in 1980 when his editors asked him to write an article on Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr., the right-wing presidential candidate who was then stumping New Hampshire for votes in the state's Democratic primary. There were allegations by New Hampshire residents that LaRouche workers were harassing voters on the street and making odd late-night telephone calls to political figures.
LaRouche showed up at the newspaper's office with a group of about 10 people, Prestage recalled, several of them security men who left their guns downstairs. In a tense interview with the entire group glaring at him, Prestage said, he asked LaRouche about his organization's intelligence-gathering network.
"He said, 'You can't use that,' " Prestage recalled. "I said, 'Why not?' . . . He said, 'We have ways of making it very painful for people.' I asked, 'Is that a threat?' They just kind of chuckled." The next day, the paper ran an article by Prestage describing the exchange.
Prestage said that the day after the story ran, he awoke in his large old house in rural Barrington to find one of his cats dead on his back doorstep. In all, three cats were left dead on his doorstep over three days.
Prestage said he believes that LaRouche's supporters killed his cats. He is not alone in believing himself to be a target of their alleged harassment.
Former associates of LaRouche and others familiar with his organization said its supporters routinely use threats and questionable tactics to silence critics and former members and to discourage the media from writing critically about the group.
Supporters of the group also routinely use pseudonyms, or impersonate reporters or others, in their intelligence work, said ex-members and people familiar with the group.
LaRouche and his associates deny they harass anyone. An associate added that they had nothing to do with Prestage's dead cats.
In a deposition in connection with a libel suit against the NBC network last year, LaRouche said that at a 1980 New Hampshire news conference he said he was an executive of a "political intelligence operation" and that "amateurs" who "play games" with him would "get chewed up." He added in the deposition that that meant he would expose them.
Jeffrey Steinberg, a top LaRouche aide, said that reporters who complain of harassment have other motives. "A lot of journalists don't like us," Steinberg said. "We have the habit of asking questions that are embarrassing" to powerful people.
Paul Goldstein, another LaRouche aide, said in an interview that the organization is sometimes a little sharp in its criticism of people. "Our method is polemical," Goldstein said. "We aim to provoke."
One ex-associate put it another way. "To people who are unfavorable to them, they do whatever they can to commit character assassination," the ex-member said.
In a 1981 memo to members, LaRouche said the group should conduct "ruthless political campaigns" against its enemies. "We measure personal political performance by the number of enemies of humanity each region of the organization prodded into apoplectic fits that day."
"Since 1972, obedience to the NCLC National Caucus of Labor Committees leader has included carrying out . . . verbal and propaganda attacks on individuals and members of other groups LaRouche decided were his enemies," John Rees, who has been studying LaRouche for years, wrote in a report on the group in his newsletter. "First a series of vitriolic and obscene attacks would be unleashed in the LaRouche publications. There followed personal harassment in the form of midnight telephone calls, personal and photographic surveillances . . . telephone calls to friends and family members, picket lines at home and work, vexatious lawsuits and vandalism . . . . "
One man who says he has borne the wrath of LaRouche supporters is Dennis King, a Manhattan free-lance writer who has written extensively about the organization for six years. King declined to comment on the record about the alleged harassment, but he pointed to sworn statements that he has submitted in federal court cases.
Steinberg denied that the group harassed King but said King has urged people to harass LaRouche.
According to King's affidavits, the anonymous telephone calls started in 1979, soon after he started writing about LaRouche. Some threatened his life, he said. He estimated he has received 500 abusive or hang-up calls at home.
Leaflets handed out in New York around that time said the publisher of the newspaper he was then working for was a criminal and that its lawyer was a homosexual, King said. LaRouche publications accused all three of being drug pushers, and at least one article contained King's address and phone number, King said.
On Oct. 14, 1980, King said he received a telephone call threatening him with homosexual rape and murder. The caller also described how King was to be tied to a lamppost and beaten with a baseball bat.
On Feb. 20 1984, a LaRouche publication, New Solidarity, ran an article entitled, "Will Dennis King Come out of the Closet?" King said. Copies were left throughout his apartment building, he said.
The harassment extended to members of his family, King's affidavit said. In November 1980, the employers of King's father, then 79, received letters urging that the father be fired, an affidavit said. His father and other members of the family received numerous anonymous telephone calls about him, King said. The callers said King would be murdered.
In a deposition, LaRouche said King is with the "dope lobby" and that LaRouche's supporters have been "monitoring" him since 1979. "We have watched this little scoundrel because he is a major security threat to my life."
Another journalist the group has publicly denounced is Pat Lynch, an Emmy-winning NBC television producer who researched a network broadcast about LaRouche. Members of the LaRouche organization have picketed NBC's New York offices with signs saying such things as "Lynch Pat Lynch."
In October, on the first day of a libel trial in U.S. District Court in Alexandria in which LaRouche charged that Lynch's broadcast had defamed him, the NBC switchboard said a telephone caller threatened Lynch's life. A spokesman for the LaRouche group said it knew nothing about the threat. An FBI spokesman said an investigation is pending but declined to comment further.
The jury found that NBC had not libeled LaRouche but that his organization had tried to sabotage a network interview with Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) The jury awarded NBC more than $3 million in damages. LaRouche is appealing the verdict.
An NBC researcher in Chicago, Marcie Permut, 22, said that soon after she started working on a segment about LaRouche, someone started placing fliers around her parents' neighborhood in suburban Chicago stating that she was running a call-girl ring out of her parents' home. LaRouche associates say they have no knowledge of the matter.
"His outfit smacks of fascism to me," Rep. Parren J. Mitchell (D-Md.) said in a statement introduced in the libel case. Mitchell said in an interview that LaRouche supporters tried to break up his political gatherings in Baltimore and distributed literature calling him a drug dealer and a "house nigger." Mitchell said he received several anonymous telephone calls, including one death threat.
"I knew it was them because I recognized some of their voices," Mitchell said. He said the harassment ended soon after he pulled a gun on a group of LaRouche supporters gathered outside his Baltimore home.
LaRouche organization publications have charged that NBC backs the "drug lobby" and that the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, another LaRouche critic, played a role in the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
In his deposition, LaRouche said that Daniel Graham, who criticized LaRouche in the 1970s when he was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and again recently, is "psychosexually impotent." Graham's response: "It's a strange thing to call a guy with seven kids."
But the name that comes up perhaps more than any other in LaRouche's pantheon of enemies is former secretary of state Henry Kissinger. The preoccupation with Kissinger increased after June 10, 1982, when Kissinger's wife Nancy was escorting him onto a plane at Newark Airport for a trip to Boston, where he was to undergo triple-bypass surgery.
When a LaRouche supporter, Ellen Kaplan, started yelling abusive comments at him, such as, "Is it true that you sleep with young boys at the Carlyle Hotel?" Nancy Kissinger allegedly grabbed the woman by the throat. She was acquitted in a Newark court of assaulting Kaplan.
LaRouche publications have said that Kissinger is a Nazi and a murderer. In his deposition, LaRouche said Kissinger is "a faggot." LaRouche's supporters have demonstrated against Kissinger and heckled him at his speeches.
Former associates of LaRouche and critics of the group said they believe that LaRouche encourages such tactics because they engender angry responses, and make members of his organization feel more alienated from the outside world. "He likes to bait people into counterattack," said one former member. "It increases the sense within the group of being under attack."
Ex-members said that the organization brands as traitors those who quit the group. Former members said they know of several dropouts who have received threatening phone calls from supporters.
The LaRouche-tied New Solidarity newspaper in 1974 ran an obituary for three associates who it said had been murdered by federal agents. The three, who were still alive, had recently quit the group.
The group's internal memos in the 1970s and early 1980s referred to individual dropouts variously as a liar, a thief, "psychotic," a KGB pawn, "a scummy dupe," "a witting agent," "a pathological liar," "a zombie" and "virtually paranoid."
The organization has used a range of other unorthodox methods. One tactic is for members to misrepresent themselves while investigating someone. "It was a regular modus operandi," said one ex-associate.
Former members said they routinely used pseudonyms or posed as employes of other organizations, often as reporters. (That was what the federal court jury found the group had done in trying to sabotage NBC's interview with Moynihan.)
In 1982 U.S. News & World Report filed a lawsuit in federal court against LaRouche-affiliated publications charging that their representatives had impersonated the magazine's White House reporter in phone interviews. The defendants denied the allegations but agreed to a permanent injunction barring them from impersonating the magazine's reporters.
Jeffrey Steinberg, one of LaRouche's top aides, said in a deposition that he has posed as a reporter for nonexistent publications and that the group's policy is not to impersonate employes of existing publications.
LaRouche added in his deposition that his associates have infiltrated opponents' electoral campaigns to gather information