Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Gordon Liddy Prepares to Face the Great Negro Menace

I'm about to copy one of those passages in Will that one reads and just immediately laughs at -- at first. Because for several generations now we've been conditioned by the entertainment industry to laugh at over-the-top fascist clowns: Otto from A Fish Called Wanda, Siegfried and Shtarker from Get Smart, that "Springtime For Hitler" guy. I make the not-so-radical suggestion that these fictional characters aren't caricatures and we keep laughing at them at our peril. Liddy's my proof of the reality of the rightwing clown, the buffoon, the fascist klutz who has equal chance of slitting your throat or slipping on a banana in the attempt.

He's also a prime example of the rightwing inferiority complex taken to its ultimate level. Liddy at his peak was about 130 lbs soaking wet. He's sawed-off, with the high, nasal, droning voice of a stereotypical nerd. In other words, Liddy's exactly the kind of guy who used to be targeted by those old Charles Atlas ads. So of course in flaming overcompensation he made himself into the most butch stormtrooper EVAR.

By 1967 the national controversy over the Vietnam war had arrived in Dutchess County and added to the divisiveness engendered by the civil rights movement. When Martin Luther King, Jr. announced his opposition to the war and his intention to sponsor massive demonstrations against Vietnam as well as racial inequality, the tension began to build. There was talk of a "long, hot, summer" among the student left at Bard and Vassar and colleges across the county, as well as in the black community, and in numerous police departments.

I was involved deeply in the intelligence work trying to get an accurate picture of what was coming... Day after day, as summer approached, reports came in of agitation in the black community for a demonstration in Poughkeepsie. It would not, the reports insisted increasingly, be peaceful. Details included the alleged stockpiling of incendiary devices such as Molotov cocktails and of firearms on rooftops and in cellars in the lower Main Street area, as well as plans both to close off the ghetto to nonblacks and to march out from it into upper- and middle-class white neighborhoods.

I was ready too, but for a different reason. I knew that when the whole student left, antiwar, civil rights, and anything-goes-so-long-as-it's-against-the-United States movements had coalesced and reached a backwater like Poughkeepsie, the kettle that had been simmering for years was about to boil over nationally. I believed a time of great challenge was at hand for the nation and for me personally. For some years, as I watched all this develop, I had been building my willpower in a manner that was a continuation of the technique of resisting physical pain I had used as a teenager to win a place on a championship cross-country team despite scarred lungs. It was a technique recognized in the East, but not well known to Western civilization. I had begun by using lighted cigarettes, then matches and candles, progressively increasing the time I exposed my body to pain as I built up my will, much as one might build muscles by lifting increasingly heavy weights. By 1967 the exposures had become long enough to start leaving small permanent scars. Still I persisted, always using my left hand and forearm so as never to incapacitate my right -- my gun-hand. Then I made a mistake.

I burned the underside of the second joint of my left index finger so badly it required surgical attention. Fortunately, the surgeon was from India and familiar with the practice, although he found it unusual in an Occidental. He told me that it would take a year before I could fully straighten my left index finger, and then only after repeated exercise to stretch the scar tissue that would form in the angle of the joint. I had, it seemed, nearly cooked out the joint and lost a tendon. If I was going to continue the practice, I would have to be very careful.

Since my will was now so strong I could endure a long, deep, flesh-charring burn without a flicker of expression, I wasn't concerned. I thought I'd gone as far as I reasonably could and saw no need to try to go further; I was ready for anything.