BOSTON, OCT. 20 -- Political extremist Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. appeared in federal court here today wisecracking with his attorneys and ready to begin his first criminal trial. But it was not to be.

U.S. District Judge Robert Keeton told LaRouche and six associates to come back next month for their trial on obstruction of justice charges. Keeton ordered that a codefendant and longtime LaRouche friend, former Ku Klux Klan leader Roy Frankhouser, stand trial first on the same charge.

The ruling ended two days of legal maneuvering in which the prosecutor and LaRouche group attorneys ganged up on Frankhouser, 47, and persuaded Keeton to start the case against him within days, although his public defender lawyer says he is unprepared.

The judge severed Frankhouser from the LaRouche defendants because the two sides had such conflicting points of view on the case. The LaRouche side describes Frankhouser, from Reading, Pa., as a sinister CIA operative, but Frankhouser's attorney, Owen Walker, describes him as a boob who was "considered a joke by Mr. LaRouche."

At the center of the controversy is Frankhouser, a former neo-Nazi and pastor in a racist religious group.

He became associated with LaRouche in the mid-1970s after pleading guilty to trafficking in stolen dynamite. He also had been an informant for federal agencies investigating the far right, and was sent to Toronto by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to infiltrate an Arab terrorist organization.

LaRouche became enamored of Frankhouser's supposed covert connections, especially after LaRouche researchers found a reference in a 1962 issue of Pravda to a State Department official named R. Frankhauser being expelled from Moscow.

Frankhouser and a Klan associate, Forrest Lee Fick, boasted to LaRouche about connections to the CIA. The group paid them money to carry messages to and from the CIA.

LaRouche has bragged for years about his supposed access to intelligence agencies. But Frankhouser and Fick told the FBI they had manufactured the CIA ties to get money as consultants from the group.

The 15 LaRouche group lawyers are relying on Frankhouser's CIA ties as a defense in the obstruction case, in which the government says LaRouche, his followers and Frankhouser all hid witnesses and burned subpoenaed documents to stifle a probe of LaRouche fund-raising.

Once the FBI probe of the group started, the group told Frankhouser to get the CIA to quash it.

Frankhouser then went to Fick and said, "Now what do we do?" Assistant U.S. Attorney John Markham said in court today.

Frankhouser then returned to the LaRouche associates and said the CIA wanted them to send witnesses to Europe and burn documents.

The LaRouche associates, who deny the criminal charges, say they believed those were CIA instructions.

In court, Frankhouser's attorney Walker said of the LaRouche defense: "Most of it is of such craziness that nobody could explain it."

But that is exactly what the LaRouche group believes -- that it had a secret tie to the CIA and the White House through Frankhouser.

It is a strange situation: The defense and prosecution agree that LaRouche followers thought they were following CIA instructions. But the prosecution says that does not excuse them from the obstruction charge.

Frankhouser has complicated matters by trying to retract a confession to the obstruction charge that he gave the FBI last year. He creates a disturbance in court when attorneys bring it up.

Through it all Frankhouser has continued to cultivate his reputation as a deep-cover agent.

Against his attorney's advice, he gossips with observers about this or that supposedly secret government operation.

He regaled an observer with a particularly spicy conspiracy theory.

"The FBI and {British intelligence agency} MI-5 are involved," he whispered, before ducking into the men's room. "That's not the half of it."