The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Mark Levin has warned before of Obama’s ‘silent coup.’ Now he has a follower in the Oval Office.

Mark Levin is a conservative radio host and author. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

In 1991, a private investigator named Len Colodny published “Silent Coup,” a sprawling revisionist history of the Watergate affair. Subtitled “The Removal of a President,” the book set out to prove that President Richard Nixon was forced out of office not because of his misdeeds but because a “formidable national security party” opposed his foreign policy. The coup was engineered by some of Nixon’s closest aides, who colluded with the intelligence community and the press to subvert him, Colodny wrote.

The book was widely panned as an unsupported and factually incorrect conspiracy theory. The Washington Post at the time blasted its “wild charges and vilifications,” and the New York Times said it showed a “stunning ignorance” of how government operated. One of the subjects, former White House counsel John Dean, went on to secure an out-of-court settlement in a $150 million libel lawsuit against the publisher.

Nevertheless, “Silent Coup” reached No. 3 on the Times bestseller list after it was published and has developed something of a cult following over the years.

The term “silent coup” has been invoked on the right repeatedly in extreme accusations against Obama. Among the term’s fans is a fiery conservative radio host named Mark Levin, who used it in a July 2015 radio show, arguing Obama had imposed “martial law” on the country through his immigration, health care and law enforcement policies.

“His government doesn’t have the authority to do any of these things, but he does it,” Levin said. “We’ve had a silent coup in this country.”

On Thursday, Levin returned to the “silent coup” theme during his evening show, arguing that the Obama administration had orchestrated a “silent coup” against President Trump.

The Obama Justice Department, he claimed, had wiretapped and spied on the Trump campaign when it investigated Russian interference in the election and had leaked information to the media to undermine the new president.

Former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. denies that President Trump’s 2016 campaign was wiretapped. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post, Photo: JONATHAN ERNST/The Washington Post)

Levin’s claims were picked up by the website Breitbart, which reported Levin saying that Obama’s “police state” actions, rather than “conspiracy theories” about alleged Russian interference in the presidential election to help Trump, should be the target of congressional investigation.

By Saturday morning, Trump was on Twitter accusing Obama, without evidence, of a “Nixon/Watergate” plot to tap the phones at Trump Tower. (Obama has denied the allegation, and James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence, said there was no wiretapping of Trump.)

And by Sunday, the White House was urging just what Levin suggested, a congressional investigation that focused on Obama.

There was some irony in mocking something as a “conspiracy theory,” considering Levin’s own dark warnings over the years of apocalyptic conspiracies. In his books and radio shows, Levin describes the United States as unmoored from its core principles, perhaps fatally so. A staunch champion of constitutional originalism, he has long warned of an incursion by liberal “statists,” power-hungry elites he says want to expand the federal government at the expense of personal freedoms.

While he has a massive following on the right, it has been noted that many, perhaps most, on the left have never heard of him, yet another emblem of the different worlds they inhabit.

Writing in the Atlantic in March, 2012, Conor Friedersdorf noted that while “movement conservatism has been abuzz” about the release of his latest book, “Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America,” one would “search in vain for a review in the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, or The Washington Post.”

Nevertheless, Friedersdorf pointed out, the book debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

The National Review Online described him as a “methodical eviscerative attorney whose command of the facts is unquestionable.”

Unlike fellow conservative hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, Levin began his career in government. After graduating from Temple Law School, he joined the Reagan administration in the early 1980s, serving as associate director of presidential personnel and chief of staff to Attorney General Edwin Meese. He later joined the Landmark Legal Foundation, a right-leaning public interest law firm, where he still serves as president.

It was only in 2002, with the help of Limbaugh and Hannity, that Levin got his start in radio. Within four years, his syndicated two-hour program was boasting 2 million weekly listeners in some 50 markets nationwide, as Human Events reported at the time.

He has written six books since 2005, most of which take aim at what he views as an out-of-control federal government that has desecrated the Constitution.

His first, “Men In Black: How the Supreme Court is Destroying America,” argued that “activist judges” on the high court undermine Congress and the president and routinely reach beyond their constitutional limits.

In 2009’s “Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto,” Levin pits his idea of conservatism — put simply, an originalist interpretation of the Constitution and individual freedoms — against what he calls liberal “statists” who reject “the principles of the Declaration and the order of civil society.”

In “The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic,” from 2013, he lays out something of a personal mission, saying he wants to defend the Constitution and civil society from “the growing authoritarianism of a federal Leviathan.” The nation, he wrote, has entered an age of “post-constitutional soft tyranny,” with Obama showing “an impressive aptitude for imperial rule.”

“This is not doomsdaying or fearmongering but an acknowledgment of fact,” Levin wrote. “The Statists have been successful in their century-long march to disfigure and mangle the constitutional order and undo the social compact. To disclaim the Statists’ campaign and aims is to imprudently ignore the inventions and schemes hatched and promoted openly by their philosophers, experts, and academics, and the coercive application of their designs on the citizenry by a delusional governing elite.”

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