Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Blueprint for a Police State in America

During the ‘60s, Indiana University (IU) was alive with protest and not just from the left. Nestled amidst the soybean and corn fields, IU was an infertile place to nurture radical dissent against the war in Vietnam. Conversely, the university and southern Indiana generally were much more congenial habitats for protestors from the conservative right.

Early in the decade, Senator Goldwater – point man for the emerging conservative movement – had begun to attract attention in the Midwest. In 1960 an IU student had co-founded a Youth for Goldwater for Vice President drive looking toward the ’60 Republican National Convention; dozens of Youth for Goldwater clubs sprang up on campuses across the country. Although he did not get tapped for vice president, his speech at the convention got him in front of the nation, and in ’61 a new drive was in place for Goldwater for President.

By ’63, as the Arizona senator was edging toward the ’64 nomination, IU’s ‘Young Americans for Freedom’ chapter (YAF) invited him to the university where he delivered a rousing address to an enthusiastic audience of 3000 while outside liberal delegates to the Little United Nations (LUNA) protested the “Arizona lunatic”.

The IU student left, of which my brother Jeff Sharlet (1942-1969) was a part, and the campus right held sharply divergent positions on the Vietnam War – antiwar vs pro-war respectively.  Both sides pitched their messages to the majority – the politically moderate, if not indifferent, students in Bloomington. Each side had its successes although most of the silent majority largely remained silent on the war.

The average Indiana student was not into politics and did not tune in to the activist gladiators from either side. Football, frat parties, flirtations, and, of course, academic work reigned supreme. Hence, the common ‘opponent’ for both the left and right at IU was student apathy. As a result, neither the groups on the left (SDS, YSA, YPSL, DBC, CEWV)* nor those on the right (YAF, Conservative League, ISI, SFS)** attracted much of a following. At best, they were relatively small competing bands of brothers arguing for and against the Vietnam War.

Given my continuing ‘search’ for brother Jeff, the IU New Left has received extensive coverage in this blog; the time has come to examine their adversaries of yesteryear, the New Right. Three Indiana students from the ‘60s stand out in particular – Tom Charles Huston, Robert Turner, and R Emmett Tyrrell, Jr – each a leader of the IU New Right.

The conservative three had much in common – they shared the notion that the United States should and could achieve victory in Vietnam and were highly critical of the IU New Left. All three were bright, motivated, and ambitious; two of them were Indiana boys, while the other, also a Midwesterner, came from a suburb of Chicago. The two Indiana natives went on to serve as Army officers during the Vietnam War.

Pro-Vietnam War rally at Indiana University

There were also differences among them. While Huston was a true believer and an ideologue, Turner was a libertarian, and Tyrrell maintained a more skeptical perspective like his early role model, H L Mencken, an admirer of Nietzsche and Ayn Rand. All three young men had good organizational skills which they deployed on campus, statewide, and beyond in academe writ large. However, each engaged the New Left from a different angle.

For Huston, it was essential to build the organizational infrastructure for a campus, statewide, and, in time, a conservative youth movement which would extend across the university campuses of America. In contrast, Tyrrell was more intent on taking on the campus left in the realm of political ideas via media, initially creating a competing voice to the IU New Left’s alternative newspaper, The Spectator. Eventually he would continue the struggle over ideas at the national level, challenging long-established left-liberal publications such as The Nation and The New Republic.

Of the three Indiana conservative leaders, Turner was the most singularly focused on supporting the war in Vietnam. To that end he offered to debate campus New Left leaders and frequently appeared in the letters section of IU’s main student paper, responding to antiwar positions until he accepted leadership of a statewide pro-war campaign, a goal of which was the ‘liberation’ of North Vietnam from communism.

Just as several alums of the IU New Left went on to have an impact in the world at large – Jeff, who founded the first GI-led antiwar paper, Vietnam GI; Jim Retherford, who played a role in the planning of the ’67 ‘siege’ of the Pentagon and later helped Jerry Rubin write his book Do It!; and the former Paulann Groninger (now Sheets), who became Assistant Attorney General for the State of New York and a force for environmental protection – Indiana University also served as an incubator for nationally prominent conservative spokesmen.

From northern Indiana, Tom Charles Huston became a campus conservative leader at IU, rose to national prominence in the conservative movement, and landed an influential position in the Nixon White House, but soon got into difficulty, finally retreating to a quiet career in real estate law back home in Indiana.
At IU, Robert Turner had made the Vietnam War his special interest as both student and activist, became an Indiana statewide pro-war leader, and volunteered for two tours in Vietnam as an infantry officer. Returning to the States in the ‘70s, he served in Washington as national security adviser to the Senate Republican leadership before going on to law school.
Pursuing a career as law professor, he continued consulting on national security issues at the Pentagon, the White House, and the State Department.  Turner also testified before Congress numerous times, most recently in 2007 on FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act governing the National Security Agency’s (NSA) highly secret surveillance work until the recent leak.

Professor Robert Turner, University of Virginia Law School

R Emmett “Bob” Tyrrell, Jr was from a well to do family in neighboring Illinois; as a scholar-athlete whose specialty was the breaststroke, he was recruited by Indiana University’s legendary swim coach to hopefully set world records like IU Olympian Mark Spitz later would. Although Tyrrell got outclassed in the pool, he stayed on at IU for grad school and, as a ‘response’ to the campus New Left, launched a small conservative campus magazine, The Alternative, later renamed The American Spectator. As editor in chief, Tyrrell eventually grew the magazine into a nationally influential journal of opinion on the right, widely read in Washington circles as well as in the nationwide conservative movement.

R Emmett Tyrrell on William Buckley’s Firing Line, 1984

When Bloomington’s conservative three arrived on campus in the late ‘50s/early ‘60s, the Cold War was still a very dominant concern in the country. The Vietnam War, which would become so divisive, was not yet on the public’s radar, still several years ahead. In the wake of Khrushchev’s '59 visit to the US, icy relations between the nuclear superpowers – the United States and the Soviet Union – had thawed a bit. But not long after, in May ’60, came the U-2 incident – the shooting down of an American spy plane over the USSR – followed two years later by the alarming Cuban Missile Crisis.

International communism remained very much on the public’s mind, while on the homefront the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) continued to patrol the country’s internal security perimeter in search of ‘domestic subversion’.

Between them, the three young IU students would assume the mantle of conservative student leadership at the university during the ‘60s and beyond and come to style themselves ‘responsible conservatives’ in contrast to the liberal Republicanism of the Eisenhower years. Just as no member of the IU left, if asked, would have conceded any lineage to the infamous West Coast Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) of the mid ’70s (even though four of their classmates were members of the fringe group before the SLA’s fiery demise), similarly on the right, the future young conservatives would distance themselves from the reactionary John Birch Society (founded in Indianapolis in ‘58) notwithstanding its Indiana roots.

During their IU tenure, Huston, Turner, and Tyrrell were acquainted or at least aware of each other and were of course affiliated with the same cluster of campus conservative clubs, but each was carving out his own niche in emerging American conservatism. Hence, they didn’t work together or actively collaborate during their college years.

In fact, at one point in ’66, when a New Left club was banned from campus and Bob Turner as a libertarian joined the left outcry in defense of the club’s right to express its views – from Turner’s point of view, however extreme its leftwing views – Tom Huston reportedly referred to his fellow student conservative quite incredibly as ‘soft on communism’.

It was only later after their IU days that the three interacted to a degree through the medium of The American Spectator. When Huston was politically on the hot seat in ‘70s Washington, Tyrrell defended him in the pages of the magazine, while both Turner and Huston at various times contributed book reviews to the American Spectator.

Of the three activists, the public career of Tom Charles Huston as a conservative, arguably the most driven individual of the trio, would soar the highest before it came crashing down to earth in infamy. By tracking Huston’s short-lived meteoric trail across the political heavens of the ‘60s and early ‘70s, we can divine the seeds of both his success and the destruction of his ambitions.

At first glance, Tom Huston would appear to be a typical IU freshman, a middle class boy from small town Indiana. At home his father was active in the Republican Party nationally, but when young Huston sought to work in a local election campaign, the Logansport Republicans weren’t interested. Eager to get into the game, he instead volunteered for the Democrats, his first foray in politics. Upon arriving in Bloomington in the fall of ‘59, however, Huston soon changed his colors. Feeling there should be a student conservative presence on campus, Huston organized the Conservative League.

The following year, after Young Americans for Freedom was founded as a national organization, Huston set up a YAF chapter at IU. An ambitious young man and talented organizer, Tom Huston rapidly ascended the hierarchy of the national organization"
                  1960 – Founder-Chair IU YAF chapter
                  1961 – Elected statewide Chair of Indiana YAF
                  1963 – Selected YAF Midwestern regional director
                  1964 – Elected Vice-Chair national YAF
                  1965 – Elected Chair national YAF

Slight in stature, but a dynamo of energy – a classmate later described him as a ‘funny, charming, skinny kid’ – during his seven years as undergrad and law student at Indiana, Huston rarely missed an opportunity to meet the challenge of the highly active IU student New Left.

In the fall of ’62, when IU’s Fair Play for Cuba Committee and its allies supported Castro’s Cuba during the Missile Crisis, YAF chair Huston rallied his members to champion the US naval blockade of the island. When in early ’63 the county prosecutor (DA) was considering indicting several campus radicals for ‘subversion’ of the State of Indiana Constitution, the IU the ‘Young Socialist Alliance’ (YSA) group, a Trotskyist outfit, picketed the courthouse, and in response Huston and his people counter-picketed in support of the DA.

During the academic year 1965-66, the university brought to campus three major pro-Vietnam War speakers – former Vice President Nixon, Army General Maxwell Taylor, and Selective Service Director Lewis Hershey. On each occasion, Jeff and fellow activists were out there demonstrating against the Washington ‘hawks’, fulsomely introduced by the IU president, himself a former Secretary of the Army during the early Vietnam War.

Rather than leave the field to the left, the campus New Right mounted counter-demonstrations on behalf of the distinguished visitors, complete with signs supporting the US mission in Vietnam.† Tom Huston, as well as Bob Turner, even debated the campus New Left, ably represented by their standard bearer, Robin Hunter, a graduate student expert in Marxist theory.

Obsessed with Vietnam, Huston felt strongly that the New Left was aiding and abetting the enemy, Communist North Vietnam, by their protests. One time, according to IU New Left alum Jim Retherford, Huston took advantage of the ‘Students for a Democratic Society’ (SDS) policy of open meetings, absent structured agendas, during which anyone could take the floor and speak. Well-known as the leader of YAF, he filibustered an SDS meeting, provocatively calling the group ‘a totalitarian Communist front [organization]’.

Shortly after his elevation to the national chairmanship of YAF, Chairman Huston flew to Manila for a conference of an Asian anti-communist organization. Subsequently the Asian group arranged him to visit South Vietnam where he spoke in support of the troops.

The next year, 1966, the chairman led a national campaign against American Motors to stop the company from selling cars to the USSR. Huston argued that the sale would allow the Soviets to conserve valuable resources that would end up in North Vietnam for use against American forces. AMC backed down.

After a post-law school stint in the Army, in early ‘69 Huston accepted a position in the Nixon White House. He soon made himself indispensable to senior staff and won the President’s confidence. His assignments included confirming suspected (but non-existent) foreign communist influence on the antiwar movement; setting up a White House internal security apparatus to bypass Justice, which Nixon felt too ‘soft’ on student protest; and coordinating the intelligence community’s efforts against Nixon’s opponents. It was the latter task which would land Huston in deep trouble, ensuring his subsequent notoriety in modern American political history.

Thomas Charles Huston, 1975

Huston’s apocalyptic vision of American society under siege by radical legions on the brink of insurrection suited Nixon perfectly. He wrote the President long memos – in one urging him ‘to purge’ dozens of officials and then ruefully commenting, “I’m beginning to sound like Stalin.”*** He took to signing memoranda ‘Cato’ after the incorruptible Roman, but behind his back others tagged him with derisive names like ‘Secret Agent X-5’ and, in its dark WWII connotation, the ‘gauleiter’ of the intelligence agencies, while for J Edgar Hoover Tom Huston was simply that ‘hippie intellectual’ in the White House.

As staff expert on ‘revolutionary youth affairs’, Cato the Younger drew up a secret memo, quickly dubbed the ‘Huston Plan’ – a witch’s brew of extralegality from ‘black bag’ jobs to, reportedly, detention camps in the West for antiwar opponents. The President was delighted and ordered the plan implemented post haste.

Nixon had not however reckoned with Hoover who considered Huston’s plan a trespass on his turf, a violation of his territory, and persuaded the President to rescind it. Within a week of its approval, the Huston Plan was officially a dead letter, although several of its pernicious features lived on to surface another day and play a part in Nixon’s downfall, Watergate.

Huston stayed in Washington another year, resigning the White House in ’71 – his legacy, a “blueprint for a police state in America.”**** He went home to practice law – just a dozen years after he’d hit the ground running at Indiana University, an eager striver with high hopes and great expectations for a life at the top.

*Students for a Democratic Society, Young Socialist Alliance, Young People’s Socialist League,W.E.B. DuBois Club, Committee to End the War in Vietnam

**Young Americans for Freedom, Conservative League, Intercollegiate Society of Individualists (now Intercollegiate Studies Institute), Students for a Free Society

*** “Confidential Memorandum for the President from Tom Charles Huston,” 11/13/70, (Declassified 3/15/82), 12

****D Wise, The Politics of Lying: Government Deception, Secrecy, and Power (1973), 154

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